10 for $10

As a follow up to my “10 for 10,000” post, I thought I’d make a list of things I’ve paid about $10 for here. One dollar is around 14,000 Rupiah, so $10 is about 140,000 Rupiah. And without further ado:

  1. Fabric and a shirt. Around $10 gets me 2 meters of batik fabric (60k Rupiah) and a custom-tailored shirt (80k Rupiah).

    20160410_204231
    Featured here is my custom-made batik shirt and one of my students, Nurhalimmah, at a national English speech competition in Jakarta. More on that eventually…
  2. Tickets to Borobudur Temple. If you’re buying domestic tickets to explore this beautiful Buddhist temple, you can get tickets for a family with 4 adults and 1 child (30k apiece for adults and 15k apiece for kids under 6). If you’re buying tickets at the foreigner price, you can get half of 1 adult ticket (280k).
  3. Lots of photocopies. At 150 Rupiah per copy, I can get 933 black and white copies. And I’ve definitely made more than that over the course of my 9 months here.
  4. A bike as good as new. When I noticed my handlebar grips kept sliding off my bike, I let it go without a second thought. When I realized my brakes weren’t super great anymore, I reasoned that they still stopped me so there was no need to panic. When my kickstand ripped off, I said no big deal, a kickstand is hardly a necessity when you’ve got plenty of walls and fences and motorbikes to lean your bike against. But when my back tire went flat beyond repair I knew it was finally time to figure out how the hell to fix my bike. With the help of Bu Mul, we brought it to a bengkel, a mechanic. For a little over $10, I got a whole new back tire, plus new handlebar grips, plus new breaks, PLUS AN AWESOME NEW KICKSTAND!
  5. To Kill A Mockingbird. A few weeks ago, the school’s librarian approached my desk and in the mafia-est way ever smiled and suggested I give the library books. Though slightly unsettled, I loved the idea and looked for either classic American/English books translated into Bahasa Indonesia or English versions of classics. The selection wasn’t too great. I decided against Indonesian editions of Great Expectations and The Scarlet Letter because there’s a lot of cultural stuff wrapped up in both. Instead, I went with English versions of The Little Prince (which I know is actually French, but it’s a classic and it’s not Dickens or Hawthorne so that’s a plus), How To Train Your Dragon (great book and there’s a movie to watch to help you get the story), and To Kill A Mockingbird (it seemed right).
  6. Postcards to the United States. It takes four 3,000 Rupiah stamps to mail a postcard to the US. Postcards range from 3,000-5,000 Rupiah. So for $10, I can buy/send about 8 postcards.
  7. Bills bills bills. My combined monthly water (a flat fee of 46,500 Rupiah [though it used to be 37,500 Rupiah] and electric (around 120,000 Rupiah [though this fluctuates based on how much time I spend in my room with the AC on]) bill is about $10. I pay separately for drinkable water (17,000 Rupiah for a large water cooler gallon drum thing) and gas for my stovetop (I’ve only had to change this once and Bu Mul took care of it).
  8. My motorcycle helmet. An excellent investment because I wear it all the time.

    IMG-20151018-WA0008 (1)
    Above: me learning to drive a motorcycle in the school’s courtyard. I’ve developed a love of motorcycles, though I promise I’m not cheating on my bike.
  9. Wayang kulit and 10 eggs. A traditional wayang kulit shadow puppet made of painted buffalo hide for 120,000 Rupiah. There are over 400 characters and, even if they’re not all used in the story you’re watching (which will run about 8 hours, from around 8pm-4am), many are on stage flanking the playing space. One puppeteer (called a dalang) does his thing the whole time with a gamelan (a type Indonesian orchestra made up of lots of different traditional instruments) and a gaggle of sinden (female singers). It’s pretty spectacular! Eggs from Indomaret are 1,500 Rupiah apiece and you can get them in packs of 10 (not a dozen for some reason).
  10. This awesome batik map of Indonesia and 5 bottles of Coke. I found the map in the Jakarta airport for 118k Rupiah, and Coke is 4k a bottle (unless you buy it from this random store near me which charges an extra 1k for refrigeration).

     

Until next time,

bh

Kidal and Proud

The Indonesia English Teaching Assistant cohort has a blog called Indonesiaful that two of our awesome ETAs edit and all of us contribute to. I hadn’t written anything for it but really wanted to before I finished the grant, so I set to writing. I wasn’t sure what I could contribute, and then decided on talking about what it’s been like being left-handed (or kidal [pronounced “key-dahl”]) in a country where left-handedness is impolite. They published my article today and I wanted to just post it here as well. If you’ve got the time, I highly recommend visiting Indonesiaful, it’s got articles from many different voices on topics ranging from personal stories to cultural insight to discussion of current events and politics in Indonesia. Check it out!

And now, here’s my article:


“Dua belas ribu,” he says.

I reach for my wallet in my left pocket—it’s always in my left pocket and if it’s ever not there I feel naked and scared and like the world is ending and I’ve been robbed.

I open it and count out the notes, flipping through the jumble of bills nimbly with my fingers.

I’ve found the right ones and pull them out.

I extend my left hand towards him, gingerly offering up the cash.

And then I jerk and spazz out. I swing my right hand around and clutch the wad of bills with it too because OH NO OH NO OH NO I just almost paid him using my left hand and that’s really bad and OH GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE but maybe it’s okay because last minute I plopped my right hand on top of the bills too and giving money with two hands is polite, so I’m totally okay, right?

Unsure.

He takes the money, counts out my change. I accept it—carefully and with my right hand—and dash out the door as fast as I can.

 

This situation is characteristic of the confusion and awkwardness I often feel here regarding my left hand.

I am left-handed.

which hand poses
A moment of confusion: which hand poses in photos?!?!

I am proud of my left-handedness.

But here using your left hand for just about anything but cleaning yourself after using the kamar kecil [restroom] is taboo.

Give money with your right hand.

Eat with your right hand.

Write with your right hand.

I thought I would be able to let this slide, to just coolly slip my left-handedness past everyone.

But everyone notices.

Everyone.

In fact, being left-handed is so weird and uncool that there’s a single word just for left-handers, kidal. Like “lefty” and “southpaw” the word doesn’t have negative connotations, but still, there’s no Indonesian word for right-handers.

So, I have learned to eat, and give and accept things with my right hand.

But I cannot write with my right hand.

Then again, maybe it’s more I will not write with my right hand.

The first week of school when I wrote my name on the board for all of my students (with my left hand) I had to preface my writing by explaining that in America it’s polite to write with either hand. And every day they see me write on that board with my left hand. And that’s a small bit of cultural exchange, right? With that small, repeated action I’m communicating that in some places it’s okay and normal to be left-handed?

left-handed student
Covert picture of kidal middle schooler in question

I don’t have any left-handed students, but I wonder what it’s like to be left-handed and Indonesian. I know they exist because one of my fellow teachers at school excitedly sent a creepy covert (albeit sweet and considerate) picture of a student using their left hand at her second school. Is this kid made fun of? Is he bullied? Is he shamed into picking up a hatchet and hacking away at his kidal-ness?

I know I’ve been tempted.

Eating is often confusing. As such, I hone my right-handed eating skills at home.

The go-to utensil is the spoon. Easy. Spoon in right hand. Eat.

Sometimes you also have a fork. In these instances, the fork is in the left hand and acts as a blunt object to shovel food onto the spoon which will in turn shovel into your mouth. Fork stays down, spoon goes up. A little trickier, but got it.

Other times, you eat with just your hands. Or, rather, hand. Rice is easy. Chicken is easy. Fish is trickier. This is when I start panicking. It’s impolite to use your left hand. BUT SOMETIMES YOU NEED ONE HAND TO HOLD THE FISH BECAUSE IT’S ALWAYS A WHOLE ENTIRE FISH AND THE OTHER HAND MUST TEAR. WHICH HAND DOES WHAT?! I never know and so I fumble and paw numbly at the dead fish in front of me and pray for the meat to magically fall off the thousands of miniscule bones that are impossible to pick apart from the meat with just one hand.

When someone hands me chopsticks I give up.

Sometimes I rest my face on my hand. On my left hand. I think this is in poor taste.

I once had a very detailed conversation with a fellow teacher about why using your left hand is so gross. I won’t get into it, but basically everything I learned during potty training was a dirty lie. Thanks, mom and dad.

I often look at things a while before acting because I’m trying to determine which hand should do what.

Can I open that door with my left hand?

Can I turn on that light switch with my left hand?

Can I pick up that soccer ball and toss it to that 8-year-old with my left hand?

Before leaving for Indonesia, we had a pre-departure orientation where we talked about our roles as both English teachers and cultural ambassadors. Since being here I’ve learned that cultural exchange doesn’t just mean teaching about your culture and learning about another. Rather, it means absorbing and living in a new culture with different rules and expectations. Then, once you understand the customs better, pushing the boundaries just enough to allow people to understand your culture and your life, but not so much so that they’re alienated and scared.

And that’s alright in my book.

 

Until next time,

bh

“Agama Anda apa?”

Heads up: This is a rather long post that’s some of my musings on religion after living in Indonesia, an exceptionally religious country. Feel free to skip it and know that I mean no offense to anyone.


For the past nine month I have been blessed with the opportunity to live in a majority Muslim community and work in a madrasah, an Islamic public high school. Which is different from school in the US where only private schools are affiliated with religion (and predominantly Catholicism). Before coming to Indonesia I knew absolutely nothing about Islam. I’m far from an expert, but I understand much more now. I am proud to work in a madrasah alongside brilliant, kind, loving people. I am proud to work in a madrasah and teach brilliant, kind, loving students. I am grateful I get to learn about another faith, a beautiful faith, that many in America know little about and associate only with terrorism.

When people ask me, “Agama Anda apa” (what’s your religions)—and they do quite frequently here—I respond “Kristen, Protestan” (Christian, Protestant). But that’s not entirely true because when I provide an answer to that question I also provide a set of images that whomever asked draws upon to understand what my worship looks like. They see me attending church every Sunday in my Sunday best with my family. And that’s not really what my faith looks like.

I’m not a particularly religious person. I can count on my fingers the number of times I’ve been to a church service. When I first came here, the ibu who owns the home I live in made sure I knew where the church was and asked if I wanted to go. I laughed awkwardly and said maybe.

I’m not particularly religious, but I’m not an atheist. I tell myself I’m Undecided. I’m still searching for what to believe in. Testing the waters. I believe in God and I like spirituality, but I’m still waffling a bit and I’m not ready to commit.

That doesn’t really fly in Indonesia. So I’m Protestant.

You have to list your religion on your identity card here and the first principle of the five-item philosophical foundation of Indonesia, the Pancasila (pahn-cha-see-la), is Ketuhanan Yang Maha Esa (“belief in the one and only God”). It sounds harsh, but the meaning is more like “belief in one God,” and Indonesia acknowledges six official religions. In order of most practiced to least practiced these state recognized versions of God are Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.

Noticeably missing from the list is Judaism. Yet Indonesia still boasts the largest menorah in the world.

As much as batik, smiling, and nasi goreng, faith is part of the fabric of Indonesia.


My relationship with church and Christianity is long distance to say the least.

I read most of the Old and New Testaments for a Bible as Literature course in college. I love it. The book is beautiful and fascinating and at times riveting.

I went to church with my aunt and uncle and cousin in Lincoln and sang a lot.

I’ve been to a handful of weddings and funerals.

I saw the Pope once and took an illegal picture of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

I stumbled across the stations of the cross happening my junior year of college and was amazed and terrified because I didn’t know what was happening but there were a whole lot of giant crucifixes.

But that’s pretty much it. The only time I’ve been to a church on or around Easter was when I was in China with my mom and we stopped by for some of our tour group to pray. I walked in but didn’t go much further than the threshold. So it was odd then that the need to go to church for Easter this year gripped me. I didn’t go for Christmas. I’ve hardly gone at all in my entire life up to now. But right here right now in Indonesia I knew I needed to go.

Why?

Here’s what I think my subconscious was thinking:

  • First, I’d been telling people for the past seven months that I’m Christian and they all assume I go to church and I kind of wanted to indulge that image and make what I’ve been saying true.
  • Second, I can’t leave Indonesia without knowing what an Indonesian church service looks like.
  • Third, I miss my family and I miss my home and I miss my grandparents and I won’t be having any egg hunts or eating any lamb with mint jelly this year, but maybe going into a church will act as a kind of portal and let me glimpse the people I love for a few seconds.
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My view of the Good Friday service–thank God for tvs

So I set off for church on my bicycle at 4:38pm on Good Friday (Jumat Agung). I parked in the nearby bank’s parking lot and then, in the midst of a sea of Christiandonesians realized how big a family thing church is. I was awfully alone. And extremely noticeable. I nervously walked up, took a weathered blue metal seat in the semi-outdoor overflow area in the back, and fidgeted nervously. And then I saw they restocked the programs so I went and picked one up and then there were people where I had been sitting but that was okay there was still an empty seat so I got in and it was really really hot and I was really really alone and nervous. Also, there was so much hair and women were wearing skirts and dresses above the knee WHAT?!

I smiled to the people around me and then feigned interest—so much interest—in the program. After five minutes or so I had the courage to talk with the ibu on my left. I said “Hari ini pertama kali ke gereja disini. Memaafkan saya jika saya salah” which wasn’t exactly correct, but translates to “today is my first time in church here. Forgive me if I’m wrong.” And then we talked a little. Then I mentioned I teach in a madrasah and that sent murmurs through the people around me. Not bad murmurs, but amazed murmurs. Like “woahhhh he works in an Islamic school but he’s not Islamic, WHAT?!” I am proud to represent a madrasah. Yeah, I can be Christian and work in a Muslim school. No big deal.

And then the service began. I forgot there was singing in church and I love singing. I had the words in my program so I was able to sing along pretty easily. It felt good to sing. And to be singing in a place other than a loud karaoke club or awkwardly in front of an entire crowd of Indonesians.

I struggled to understand the prayers, though I could pick out words here and there.

Then there was a drama. There was gamelan music and a narrator narrating everything, and then a bunch of teenagers coming on in long potato sack dress-robe-things. Some wore black sacks and their faces were painted black. These people were apparently evil. Some wore white sacks and their faces were painted white. I didn’t ask about them, but I assumed they were good. There was also one girl with a red sack and a white face? There was also one dude with what I think was a wool hat covering his face and big headphones over his ears. I’m not really sure what was happening but it was definitely some sort of morality play and they mentioned cellphones at one time so I don’t think it was taken from the Gospels.

After that was the main sermon. It was pretty good, though again, I struggled immensely with understanding it. I tried to concentrate on the words, but also let my mind wander and ponder religion in general.

What does it mean to be religious?

What does it mean to believe in God?

What does my faith look like now and what do I want it to look like?

I couldn’t really answer any of these questions, though I did go through a wide range of emotions and thoughts. I love religion. It has quite literally built empires. It is responsible for some of the most beautiful art, architecture, and music in the world. It keeps people safe. It keeps people moral. It gives people something to believe in. It gives people hope.

It also of course causes wars. The Crusades. The Spanish Inquisition. The War on Terror.

But mostly I think it’s good.

What I do not think is good is when religion – any religion – tells people who they are is wrong or evil or dirty. Our differences are what make this world awesome. God created each and every one of us and so we must all be good, otherwise you’re saying He’s wrong. Of course people do horrible things and murder and steal and hurt others and that’s not okay. But religion’s got forgiveness cemented in its foundations. And in general, if a person is just living their life not hurting anyone, they’re okay in my book.

A conversation I had freshman year with a member of a religious organization on UNL’s campus flashed through my mind. He told me his entire family is Buddhist. And then he said, quite calmly and reasonably, that they will all go to hell unless they convert and believe in Jesus.

That for me is not okay.

God takes many forms. Your God is not the same as my God. Even if we practice the same religion, your God is not the same as my God. How can He be? My relationship with God is personal. There’s a collective experience when you enter a house of worship and pray together, and that’s comforting and beautiful. But you also have your own relationship with God and you’re the only one who knows what that’s like. And your relationship and your worship being different does not make your God less significant or less correct.

Another conversation flashes through my mind. I’m in 4th grade and just explained to my best friends that I wasn’t baptized and didn’t really know what that meant. They promptly and matter-of-factly told me I was headed straight for hell.

That for me is not okay.

Worship takes many forms. But it’s all about the same thing. Regardless of how you pray, you’re praying. You’re putting faith in something greater than yourself. You’re working towards being a good human. Who cares what that worship looks like? Who cares if you were thrust into a tub of water when you were little?

I’m probably betraying my religious ignorance and committing blasphemy right now. Please forgive me.

But I believe anyone who puts down the beliefs of others is wrong.

Anyone who hates and looks down upon and scoffs at and mocks and despises and ignores and hurts is wrong.

God is made of forgiveness.

God is made of acceptance.

God is made of love.

So damn it everybody forgive and accept and love.

Until next time,

bh

10 for 10,000

Just a quick list of 10 things I’ve bought for about 10,000 Rupiah to give you an idea of general prices. One dollar is about 14,000 Rupiah, so 10,000 is roughly $0.71. So imagine buying all of this for three quarters. All of this is the same price as that too-tiny pack of chocolate-covered pretzels in your high school vending machine.

  1. Two packs of Good Time cookies. These cookies are about half the size of normal cookies and twice as good. Which makes eating all 12 in one sitting way too easy. Pro-tip: the best flavor is Rainbow Chocochips, though Double Choc Chocochips comes in a close second.20160423_200428 (2)
  2. A large liquid hand soap refill. Stick with the Camomile Extracts scent because the strawberry one is overwhelming. 20160430_201311 (2)
  3. An iced coffee and 3 hours of WiFi. Shout-out to Kedai Nara, my go-to internet spot after school hours because I don’t have WiFi at home. 20160509_191512
  4. A haircut, a shave, and a wash. My barber is the best and after my electric trimmer died he saved me from looking like a disgruntled caveman. Potong Rambut
  5. Lunch. My favorite lunch options are lotek (like salad but with a peanut sauce) [pictured with a traditional Javanese drink, dawet] and mie ayam (noodles and chicken) with es jeruk (like lemonade but from fresh oranges).
  6. Dinner. Go-to favorites are sate ayam (chicken satay) and nasi goreng (fried rice).
  7. Bus fare to the big city. The trip from Wonosari to Jogja takes anywhere from 1-2 hours depending on how often the driver stops, for how long, and whether he prefers to smoke while driving or stopped. Sometimes it’s boiling and packed with people. But 3 quarters to go 38 kilometers (23.6 miles) ain’t so bad.
  8. Ojek fare from the bus stop to home. The bus back from Jogja drops me off about 3 kilometers from my house at a bit of a transportation hub (I use that phrase lightly). The only way to get back is to take a motorcycle taxi, and I typically pay 10,000. It should be actually cheaper because it’s not far, but they’re charging me the bule price.
  9. This large bag of chips. 20160423_200507 (2)
  10. About 3kg of laundry. This is a pretty standard sized load to bring to one of the laundry places near me. I only bring shirts and pants because Bu Mul told me when I first got here not to drop off my underwear and socks. They’re really not that scandalous, but I handwash them anyway. Packets of liquid Rinso detergent are Rupiah 1,000 each, so 10k gets me 10 loads of clean undergarments!

Until next time,

bh

What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name?

When my parents chose my name, they went the less traditional route. They thought “Bryan” sounded nicer than “Brian,” and I have to say that I agree. It’s also (in my humble, completely biased opinion) aestically more pleasing.  Y actually thynk we should try replacyng every “I” wyth a “Y.” Yt’s cool and hyp and just better. Let’s make yt happen, people!

But I digress. The pryce I pay for being Bryan instead of Brian is a lifetime of mispellings. After 23 years of seeing my name misspelled though, it doesn’t really bother me anymore.

That being said, I (and the entire Indonesian population) was wildly unprepared for my name’s arrival in this country.

image
My name is so crazy this kid can’t even believe it

B-R-Y-A-N just does not work well with Indonesian pronunciation.

Quick note on pronunciation in Bahasa Indonesia :

1. All letters are pronounced. Except sometimes “k” which becomes a glottal stop (think the break in your voice between “uh-oh”) at the end of words (like “Pak“).

2. Vowel sounds are always like this:
“A” = “ah”
“E” = “uh” or “eh”
“I” = “ee”
“O” = “au” like in “caught”
“U” = “oo”

In the 22 years and 8 months I’d lived in the U.S. my name was spelled 3 different ways (Brian, Brain, and Bran).

In the 8 months I’ve lived in Indonesia, it’s been spelled 17 different ways.

And now, in no particular order, here they are!

1. Brian
2. Brain
3. Bran
4. Brayn
5. Brayan
6. Brynt
7. Breyen
8. Bryen
9. Bryant
10. Briyan
11. Brayen
12. Braien
13. Byran
14. Braynt
15. Bryn
16. Briant
17. Brayyan

image
To quote a famous frosty queen, I’m just gonna let it go

Y’m seriously considering switching to one of the many alternative spellings. Don’t be surprised if I return with a different name–I promise it will still sound the same and I’ll still be the same me were I not “Bryan” called!

Until next time,
Brayen Hawerd

My Love Affair with Indomaret

I have less than a month left in Wonosari and in Indonesia. As such, I’m going to try and post as frequently as possible. Lists, impressions, pictures, lots of stuff. I may fail at this. Hopefully not!


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How do you measure a year? The characters of Rent give various methods including daylights, sunsets, midnights, and cups of coffee. This past year for me, however, has been measured in trips to Indomaret.

Take this trip, for example:

Sheepishly I approach the counter and slide the box across the shiny gleaming steel to the cashier. It feels weird. The cashier’s blue eye shadow, which does such a nice job of accenting the blazing blue uniform, pierces my soul. Here I am in Indomaret, this convenience-store-plus-more, buying this. The cashier nonchalantly rings it up. I squirm a little and blush.

“Ini ‘M,’ ya?” she says.

“dghjm,” I mumble back, unintelligible garble that is neither Bahasa nor English. Mercifully, she understands that I meant “Yes, M, that is correct that is the size I wanted I am M yes.”

And then, unexpectedly, she swerves from the usual cashier-customer script I’ve become so accustomed to. She asks, “Panas atau dingin.”

I stare.

I puzzle.

I tilt my head and furrow my brow.

I have visited Indomaret well over a hundred times—sometimes as often as thrice per day—but this question is new. “Hot or cold?” I am not sure what to make of it.

She whips out a black plastic take-out container and slaps it down on the counter. Inside is a rather large portion of fried chicken and rice.

“Panas atau dingin,” she repeats.

I sputter out dingin, she gingerly places the meal into my plastic bag, and I walk out into the cool night air with a free chicken dinner.

Where else can you go to buy underwear (because you haven’t done laundry in far too long and really really need clean clothes for school tomorrow) and walk out with a free chicken and rice dinner. Only Indomaret.

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Some examples of Indomaret’s line of “RTE” – Ready To Eat – food that I didn’t know existed until I was handed one for free.

Like the secret menu at Starbucks, deals like “buy some underwear, get some chicken” are never advertised. So every purchase is like playing the lottery. Except instead of winning money you win random things you never knew you wanted. Buy some ice cream, get some sprinkles; buy some paper towels, get some more paper towels. FREE.

This convenience-store-plus-more is a beautiful magical AIR CONDITIONED haven. I began frequenting Indomaret to buy groceries and toiletries: eggs, juice, bread, soap, toothpaste. As time has gone on, however, I have found myself stopping by more and more often.

Call it silly, call it absurd, call it an unnecessary luxury that feeds consumerism, but I have fallen in love with Indomaret.

Friendly smiles and fluorescent lights; sugary drinks and salty snacks. The stock changes but the staff never does. I have filled my life with familiar faces from these convenience stores. There are four that I frequent. Each has its own personality. The one with the ATM is nice because it has an ATM, but it’s a bit far. The one closest to me is good, but it’s smaller and also a knock-off Indomaret? The one up the hill has a bakery and a soft serve ice cream machine that can give you a vanilla/corn swirl! Once the one in front of the bus station had Froot Loops and you bet I impulse bought that box.

I have also impulse bought: ice cream, a broom, the Minions movie.

I have tried to buy but could not find: nail clippers and honey. The first they don’t sell. The second was merely hiding.

It’s strange how much my buying habits have changed since being here. There are no grocery stores in Wonosari, so I do all of my shopping at convenience stores like Indomaret. There is a traditional market in town, but it’s a bit far and it smells strange and I’m a little frightened of the produce, which often features cockroaches and enormous spiders. So I stick with Indomaret.

And I’m kind of okay with that. Living here for the past 9 months has meant changing a lot about myself and the way I do things. So maybe I can’t find real yogurt or cheese or granola or baking powder or quinoa. That’s okay. There are other ways to make it work, and I’ve learned to go with the flow.

And now here’s a comprehensive list of why I go to Indomaret:

  • To get out of the house and interact with humans
  • To buy plane tickets
  • To buy train tickets
  • To buy pulsa (minutes)
  • To make new friends
  • To take shelter from the rain (on the way home from another Indomaret)
  • To fend off boredom
  • To break big bills
  • To use the ATM
  • To find sanctuary in the air conditioning
  • To buy emergency rainjackets (I have done this twice)
  • To wait to be picked up
  • To practice Bahasa Indonesia
  • To get material to write funny/weird blog posts about

Until next time (which will hopefully be sooner than three months),

bh

December Travels, Part IV: Temple Run

December Travels, Part IV: Temple Run

Hello again!

The fourth and final installment of December Travels is about my trip to Thailand, Cambodia, and Singapore. As a heads up, this post gets heavy and I talk about war and genocide in Cambodia. If you’d rather skip it (though I recommend you don’t), feel free to do so.


 

Thailand

I joined fellow ETA Sam in Bangkok, Thailand on the 23rd. Stayed there for one night (in which I did the only thing any sensible theatre lover would do and listened to Chess’s “One Night in Bangkok”) and explored the next day. Our first stop was the Thai Grand Palace. It’s an explosion of rhinestones, glass, glitter, and gold that would make any bedazzler happy, but unlike most bedazzled jeans, it looks remarkable and very classy.

We also visited Wat Pho, which houses the Reclining Buddha. While this Buddha may be lazy, the artisans who built him certainly were not—it’s covered in gold leaf and measures a whopping 46 meters (150 feet) long.

Reclining Buddha
Reclining Buddha

Afterwards we scoured the city for the perfect pairs of green and red elephant pants (the unspoken uniform of tourists across Thailand) in order to create a spectacular Christmas outfit. We stumbled upon some Christmas sweater-esque scarves as well, so threw those into the fray.

I also drank three large cups of Thai iced tea. Which is delicious. And one contains enough sugar to last me 3 years.


 

Cambodia

We spent six days in Cambodia, 4 in Siem Reap and 2 in Phnom Penh. This leg of the journey was filled with an awe-inspiring and soul-crushing mix of Khmer history. Over three days we visited the many gorgeous and ancient Angkor temples as well as the Cambodia Landmine Museum. In Phnom Penh we visited Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, and Choeung Ek Killing Field. I’ll speak to the temples first, then on the other sites.

TEMPLE RUN (or, rather, sprint)

The Angkor era lasted from 802-1431 and began when a king declared a parcel of land (about the size of Cambodia) his. He was crowned chakravartin (universal monarch) and renamed Jayavaran II. The Angkor Archaeological Park consists of the ruins of many Angkor capital cities and temple complexes. Angkor Wat, featured on the Cambodian flag, is the largest and most famous ruin, but far from the only one. I will now attempt a sprint through all of the ruins that Sam and I visited (note that we still did not see all of them).

The darker side of Cambodia’s past

Landmines.

When one of your soldier dies, you bury them. When one of your soldiers is maimed, you must care for them—fix them, feed them. Caring for the wounded costs more money, more time, more people, more resources. Landmines that maim rather than kill are a more effective war strategy. So rival factions within Cambodia covered the country in landmines. Landmines do not click when you step on them. They explode immediately. Landmines do not target soldiers alone, they target everyone. Cambodia is the most heavily mined area in the world and there are an estimated 4-6 million landmines still in the ground. Large cities have already been cleared of mines, but many rural areas are still riddled with explosives. Which means that the land is rendered useless. You cannot farm in it you cannot play in it and if you do you quite literally risk life and limb.

Cambodia Landmine Museum
Cambodia Landmine Museum

The Cambodia Landmine Museum and Relief Center seeks to educate anyone willing to stop about landmines and their place in Cambodian past and present. The museum was founded by ex-child soldier Aki Ra, who was forced to lay landmines as a child and has since dedicated his life to removing as many as he can—around 50,000 to date. Though he no longer demines, his NGO, Cambodian Self-Help Demining, continues removing mines from Cambodia every day. Around 63,000 people have been in accidents involving land mines and other explosive weapons, and 1 in 290 Cambodians is an amputee. I suggest you now take six minutes to watch this video about Aki Ra (also below).

 

Genocide.

Led by Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge sought to realize a deranged, utopian fantasy, to destroy art, religion, and culture and begin a new, Communist agrarian society at Year Zero. On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge evicted everyone from the cities and forced them to live in rural areas and begin new lives as farmers. They demanded an absurdly high output from these new communities, many of which were composed of people who had never farmed in their lives. The Khmer Rouge leaders also began an assault on “New People,” on anyone deemed an intellectual with Western influence. Doctors, lawyers, professors, monks, artists, politicians, city-dwellers, foreigners. All were labeled “New People,” and deemed dangerous. As were many who had glasses, for they were seen as a symbol of intelligence. These people were rounded up and sent to detention centers throughout the country. Because their families could potentially seek revenge, they were rounded up too.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

In Phnom Penh, one such detention center, S-21 or Tuol Sleng, has been converted into a museum. This high school-turned prison has been kept in a state similar to how it was found after the war. Today it is peaceful and green, but the exhibits depict the atrocities that occurred. The walls are covered in headshots that were taken to document each prisoner. Everyone in the photos—from young children to old men and women—died. S-21 processed over 17,000 people; only seven men, who possessed skills deemed valuable by the Khmer Rouge for the upkeep of the prison, survived. Prisoners were kept in horrible conditions. They were tortured. They were innocent. But the Khmer Rouge insisted they were spies for the CIA or KGB (organizations most of the prisoners had never heard of). They were forced to give false confessions and name others in their spy network (family, friends, neighbors). After they confessed, they were taken to the killing field.

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The memorial stupa at the entrance of the Choeung Ek Killing Field.

The Choeung Ek Killing Field, one of around 300 across the country, is outside the city of Phnom Penh. Prisoners were brought here in the middle of the night to be murdered. Loud revolutionary music blared and generators roared, powering fluorescent lights and muffling screams for help. This gave any nearby citizens the illusion that the Khmer Rouge were holding meetings. Prisoners were not shot because a gunshot would be too loud. Instead, the Khmer Rouge bludgeoned every individual to death, or slit their throats. Weapons were expensive, so they used whatever they could find. Death was neither fast nor ensured. The bodies were thrown in mass graves and covered in DDT to mask the smell. Those who weren’t already dead were poisoned and buried alive. Though the graves have since been excavated, skeletons classified, and the bones placed into an enormous memorial stupa, bits of bone and clothing still wash up when it rains.

Between 1975 and 1979, approximately 2,000,000-3,000,000 people, a quarter of the entire Cambodian population, died. The population today is young. Anyone over the age of 40 lived through horrors I cannot imagine.

Click here for more information on the genocide and here for an amazing theatre project aimed at educating Cambodian high school and university students about their history.


 

Singapore

After a very sobering trip to Cambodia, we went to Singapore and joined a group of other ETAs to celebrate the New Year. We went to a large beach party and there were hordes of people and fireworks and lots of dancing and a foam pit and I lost my shoes at one point and freaked out a bit but it’s okay because I found them. This was the closest to Times Square I will ever get (which in some ways is funny because it was also the furthest from Times Square I’ll ever be). It was fun and I learned to twerk for it. I did miss a quieter evening with a small group of close friends and family. I missed saying resolutions. Or struggling to come up with some sort of resolution. And reflecting on the year. But it was a nice cap to a beautiful and enlightening trip. I was grateful that I could be on a beach surrounded by people, dancing and watching fireworks explode in the sky, carefree. That’s a luxury. The world at times seems more peaceful than ever today. Yet at others it does not.


 

So to end, I urge you to be unafraid to explore. Explore new places. Explore new people. Explore new ideas. It’s okay if you don’t like or agree with what you find, but opening your eyes to something new, being willing to see that which is outside yourself and your world, is important. Distrust and dislike are never the answer. Neither is destroying—whether physically or verbally—that which scares or upsets you. If you have to hurt others to alleviate something you see as a problem, then you need to ask yourself to find a better solution. Because anything borne from pain will lead only to ruin.

Until next time,

bh

December Travels, Part III: The In-Between (Abridged)

AMINEF’s travel policy mandates we stay at our sites a full week between trips, which makes sense to me. I’m here to teach and interact with my community, so I guess I should be doing that? The week was mostly filled with (1) Christmas music (2) Winter Spice tea (3) evaluating scripts for the O’Neill Center and (4) trying (failing) to prep for my trip abroad. I also celebrated my 23rd birthday in a very different but very wonderful way.

I’ve decided the best way to capture and retell this week is through short excerpts from my journal.

17 December 2015

Went to the post office and mailed 3 sets of used boarding passes to AMINEF.

Note that later in the week I received a text from Mark, the ETA Researcher/Coordinator, telling me the whole office was very glad that the mysterious package from Wonosari wasn’t anthrax. Turns out we aren’t supposed to physically mail our boarding passes…

18 December 2015

Put my Christmas cards on the fridge and table. Showed them all to Bu Mul. She was very alarmed and startled by the singing card from Aunt Marie, but quickly came to love it. She even recorded herself opening it!

Headed to immigration for the 12th time. ALL 3 OF US [Kendra, Julia, and myself] GOT OUR KITAS AND MERP. FINALLY!!

19 December 2015

Made batik a little with Bu Ruwi [my neighbor]. Colored a little in my book from Kara. Practiced driving around on Bu’s motorcycle. Got a little lost and practiced a lot!

20 December 2015

Read a lot for the O’Neill.

Love and good, happy thoughts to Grandpa Herb.

As a precursor to this next entry, Bu Mul suggested I spend my birthday with the kids in the local orphanage. The suggestion came out of nowhere and I was taken off guard by it. But the more I thought about it the more I knew it was what I wanted to do. So we prepped cake and lunch to share with everyone at the orphanage.

21 December 2015

Selamat ulang tahun! Hari ini, saya 23 tahun!

I wandered to the kitchen, had some Frosted Mini Wheats [thank you Dan and Laila for lugging them from home] then opened Bu’s gift—it was a cute photo collage with pics of us and some of me I’d sent her from my travels!

Went to school to use WiFi and give Pak Rifa the cute kids’ books from Mom and Dad. We exchanged gifts! A pleasant surprise to get a present from him and Bu Fifi. I decided to wait and open it at night.

Then around 9:30 Bu & I went to pick up the birthday cake. They were closed with a sign that said “tutup sebentar” (closed briefly). I was NOT happy. We waited until about 10:30 then had to head to the restaurant where we’d be celebrating with the kids from the “panti asuhan” (orphanage). On the way, Bu’s motorcycle just stopped working…Got gas thinking that was the problem. Stopped again…Then finally got it to work. Made it around 10:45.

Nisa [Bu Mul’s daughter] met us with the other moto and she and Bu went to wait for the cake. We were slated to start at 11. Time ticked by. 11:18 Bu and Nisa returned with the cake and “23” candles. Time time time. 11:40 Bu called [the orphanage]. We were waiting on them, and they were waiting on us! Of course. Then noon prayer started so more waiting. I was tired and my grouch level was rising, but then the kids came and it all fell away.

There are 42 kids at the orphanage and 35 were there (7 had gone home to sibling, aunts, uncles, etc for the vacation). I welcomed them all in Bahasa and translated into English. They said a prayer (for me? for us? for the food? unsure, but it was nice). Then we did cake! Backwards lunch. I had the youngest kid help me out and blow the candles out for me. Then I cut the cake into very small pieces. We ate the cake, then passed out the birthday chicken boxes (my very own Indo food boxes!) and ice tea. The kids were sitting at 3 tables, so I decided to forgo eating to talk with each table (and each side of the table). We chatted about where they study, what their dreams are (“apa cita-citamu?”), and I talked a little in English, asking favorite colors or sports or hobbies. It was really nice to just talk to them all. At some point the Tootsie Rolls I’d brought were passed out, and I ended by giving everyone [some American oleh-oleh]. Then we took group pictures!

22 December 2015

Today was a whirlwind frenzy of hot drinks, O’Neill submissions, errands, packing, and NOT sleeping!

And then, with my new visa in hand, I journeyed to far-off kingdoms elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Join me in December Travels, Part IV: Temple Run for Christmas in Cambo and New Years in Singapore

Later,

bh

December Travels, Part II: Kakak Saya dan Kakak Ipar Saya

I’m writing this blog post in a taxi from Jogja to Wonosari. It’s about 7:30pm, so sudah malam (already nighttime) and rain is pinging on the roof. It’s nice and I’ve got at least an hour to be productive. I suppose small talk with the cab driver would be lebih sopan (politer), but I’m sleepy and tired of cab ride small talk.

So part 2 of my December travels: kakak saya dan kakak ipar saya (my older sibling and older sibling-in-law). It took me a while to grasp it, but the words for sibling are gender neutral. Kakak means older sibling, and adik means younger. The ipar tacks on “in-law.” So as you may have guessed, this post is all about my family (Dan and Laila!) coming to Indonesia.

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Selamat datang ke Indonesia Dan& Laila!

They got here on the 10th, and in proper airport-pick-up fashion, I greeted them with an
awesome handmade sign. While waiting for them I realized two things: 1. Indonesian airports are not good at updating their arrivals boards and 2. Hugh Grant’s character in
Love Actually
was right in saying the arrivals gate of the airport is wonderful. Watching people reunite with their loved ones is spectacular, and I recommend it if you ever have the chance. Much better people watching than your dentist’s waiting room or the check-out line at the supermarket.

So they got here and we took off running, cramming as much as possible into the very short week we had together.

We started by exploring the city of Jogja a bit. We went to the keraton (or kraton depending on who you ask), which is the Sultan’s Palace. Side note: the full name of the province I live in is Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta, which means “Special District of Yogyakarta.” It is so named because it is the only province still governed by a sultan. We special in Jogja. Unlike many royals, the sultan isn’t a mere figurehead, but the actual governor of the province (formally passed as law on 30 August 2012). The current drama is that the time has come for 69 year-old Sultan Hamengkubuwono X to start thinking about his heir. His five children, however, are all women. And a female sultan won’t fly here. He wants it to, I want it to, you want it to, Princess Anna and Queen Elsa want it to, but the people say nay. I think they should host a reality tv show to determine the new sultan. Wouldn’t that be fun?

—-Please note that I stopped typing in the cab at this point, after about a half hour, because the dark and the rain and the windy, mountainous road to Wonosari is making me feel nauseous. Of course it could have also be the questionable snacks I ate earlier and a sign that I’m about to become violently ill. Who knows!—–

So we checked out his place. Or, rather Dan and Laila did while I went to my second home, the immigration office. TURNED IN ALL MY PAPERWORK, TOOK A PHOTO, AND GOT FINGERPRINTED AND CAN PICK UP MY SUPER SPECIAL VISA ON THE 18TH!

I met back up with Dan and Laila and then we headed to Taman Sari, the water palace nearby the kraton. Once upon a time the palace was in the center of a lake, but it’s now dry and bursting at the seams with a vibrant art/tech community (there’s even a mural commemorating the time Mark Zuckerberg, the Lord of Facebook, visited). The sultan would row on over to the water palace from the kraton once a week in order for some relaxation and fun times with concubines. Said ladies would arrive in a group of about 20 via underground passageways from a neat sunken mosque. They would then splish splash around in one of the two main pools (the other was for children [???]). They were clothed, but their shoulders were exposed {gasp!}.

The sultan would be chilling up in the tallest tower watching the ladies. He’d pick out his favorite. Then she’d go and the two of them would splish splash around in his private pool (this isn’t a euphemism for sex. They actually splish splashed around together fully clothed). Then they would undress and have secret fun times in a very uncomfortable looking wooden “bed” (this is the sex).

We wandered around with a guide afterwards and he brought us to a coffee shop that sells kopi luwak (luwak coffee). This very expensive delicacy is made from the finest coffee beans that have been swallowed by fluffy civet cats. Then they’re pooped out. And collected. And dried and washed and ground up. And brewed into coffee. Which we tried. There’s a scene in The Bucket List where Jack Nicholson talks about it and the café had it playing  while we sipped our own coffee. One of our guides when we were in Bali joked and said the official drink of Bali (which has a slightly different type of kopi luwak) is “cat-poo-ccino. Well played, sir, well played.

After that we headed to Candi Prambanan (Prambanan Temple). This Hindu Temple was built around 850. The sky was dark and stormy, but we lucked out and there wasn’t too much rain. The result was a really impressive backdrop for a beautiful temple.

Quite a few tourists wanted photos with the tall white people. While Dan and Laila were busy posing, I stood off to the side like one those theme park attendants who make sure no one punches Mickey in the face. And then when they were tired and bedraggled and their smiles could no longer bear the strain of 5,001 photos, I announced that it was time for one more photo and then a rest.

The next day was our Gunungkidul day, where we went around the area I live in with guide Ica and driver Aan. We went to Wonosari first and visited my house. Bu Mul was there expecting us, except she wasn’t actually there at the moment, though a handful of her family members were. Which was a pleasant surprise but also a big surprise because there were lots of extra people. In traditional Indonesian fashion, we were stuffed with food and hot sweet tea. Then we checked out the school and Dan and Laila got to meet Pak Rifa and we all awkwardly sat in the headmaster’s office sort-of-but-not-really making small talk.

Then off to our first obyek wisata (tourism object [a.k.a. tourist attraction]) of the day, Goa Pindul! We tubed through the cave lazy river-style and had an English guide, which was fun because last time I went the tour was in Bahasa and I spent the whole time staring off into the abyss, flapping my feet in the water, and trying not to get my cell phone wet as I took pictures.

Then we went to Pantai Baron and Pantai Kukup. Both beaches were pretty, despite the dark clouds and rain. The three of us shared a coconut and enjoyed one another’s company.

We awoke the next morning before my standard college bedtime to make it to Candi Borobudur (Borobudur Temple) to watch the sunrise. It was cloudy, but we held onto a beautiful droplet of hope that we would see the sun rise. We were not disappointed. Well we sort of were because it was pretty misty. But the temple was beautiful in the early morning light and it was relatively uncrowded. And then the fog cleared a bit and we could see the surrounding mountains and, yes (!), the sun! It was breathtaking.

Borobudur aerial
Aerial view of Borobudur (I didn’t take this one…)

We grabbed some breakfast and then headed back up. A little more on Borobudur: it’s a Buddhist temple built in the 800s. It’s essentially a giant square. The four lower levels are covered in reliefs that detail the Buddha’s life and teachings. The lowest level has four rows of reliefs, two on either side. The other three lower levels have two rows each. Back in ye olden days, pilgrims to the temple would start on the east end of the temple with one of the rows and work their way clockwise around the entire temple. Then they’d start on the next row. They would do this for every row. Meaning that they went around the temple TEN TIMES before reaching level five and unlocking the “enlightenment” achievement. The three levels upper levels are rounded instead of square and feature 72 bell-shaped (or top-of-siracha-bottle-shaped) stupas, each with a surprise inside. Spoiler alert: the surprise is a Buddha.

Most are missing their heads because they were looted long ago. A few have been opened so that visitors can actually see the Buddhas (though I think it’s secretly to allow for better selfies). The stupas on levels five and six have diamond-shaped holes. The stupas on level seven have square-shaped holes (the enlightenment of squares > diamonds, obviously). In the very center at the very top is an enormous, solid stupa. It’s empty. And solid. But I suspect it once held the big boss for the final fight.

The top three levels are supposed to be characterized by a feeling of openness and space (enlightenment). After the intricate carvings, crammed walkways, and hundreds of watchful Buddhas below, it really does feel that way. You reach the top and there’s room to breathe, to think. To contemplate life. And 372 other people with which to do it!

As three of the only obviously foreign tourists in a sea of Indonesian vacationers and middle school students, we were targets for photographs and interviews. We easily spoke with over a hundred kids who had assignments to find white people and practice their English. This is not an exaggeration. I love this assignment, it’s a great idea. If attempting to learn Indonesian has taught me anything (other than grammar is foolish) it’s that there’s no better way to learn than by talking with strangers who speak the language you’re trying to learn. But when you’re the one being interviewed and you’re being interview lots and lots and lots, it gets very tiring. But you can’t yell at these kids because their eyes are filled with hope and joy and rainbows and sunshine and a sparkling desire to get a selfie with you. So you take three million selfies. And spend the same amount of time working your way to the top as the original Buddhist pilgrims did. Which is poetic in some ways. But mostly infuriating.

We went back to Jogja then and visited the Batik Museum with fellow ETA Julia and her sister, Maria, who was also visiting! They were set to close pretty soon, but the people who run the Batik Museum are literally the best people ever so the stayed open an extra few hours so all of us could make our own batik. Found out Dan used the batik technique in high school art class and had my mind blown. While waiting for our pieces to dry, we walked through the museum, which is nice. My favorite part is the room at the end that’s filled with needlepoint portraits of people like Ronald Raegan and Jesus. I’ve decided that when I have my portrait made for whatever it is that one has portraits made, I don’t want a photo or oil paints. I want a quality piece of needlework. Take note, everyone.



To Bali

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Travel is exhausting

Then on to the island of Bali. Contrary to popular belief, it is not its own country, but actually part of Indonesia! It’s also predominantly Hindu and by far the most touristy part of Indonesia. This last fact means that not once were we asked for photos and that no one stared at us.

We hired a driver for the day to take us around. He was rather grouchy. I’m unsure whether this general grouchiness was because 1) we told him right away we didn’t want to go to any of the usual tourist craftsperson haunts (silversmiths, batik makers, woodworkers, coffee farms); 2) we didn’t stop for a single meal over about 8 hours (very un-Indonesian); or 3) he ran over a very cute, very unassuming duck who was crossing the road with his partner. Both were crushed afterwards (the former literally, the latter emotionally).

We visited the Ubud Monkey Forest first, which was filled with very friendly monkeys. We wandered around and saw quite a few monkey salons where groups of two or three monkeys were taking turns grooming one another. I considered joining in but decided against cheating on my barber in Wonosari. Later, Dan, Laila, and I all fed monkeys bananas. Which probably isn’t actually good, but there were ibus left and right selling bananas so we threw caution to the wind. They climbed right up us! Which was kind of fun and kind of not fun.

Then we went to Goa Gajah Temple, which had an interesting fountain and a cave with a crazy entrance. A random man forcibly joined us and started talking loudly about the history of the fountain. We didn’t want a guide, so we tried ignoring him. He kept on plugging along spouting off random information until I politely said we wanted to explore the area alone. He looked a little taken aback, but stopped. Then when I turned away instead of reaching for my wallet, he demanded a tip. I shrugged and replied innocently “O saya pikir gratis” (oh, I thought it was free). He mumbled angrily and stormed off. I FEEL NO SYMPATHY SERVES YOU RIGHT YOU CAN’T JUST FORCE PEOPLE TO GO ON A TOUR WITHOUT ASKING THEM AND THEN EXPECT THEM TO PAY YOU WHEN THEY SAY THEY DON’T WANT A TOUR. GRUMBLE GRUMBLE GRUMBLE.

Then we went to some rice paddies and explored a bit, just narrowly missing getting drenched. It was beautiful, though multiple families set up posts along the way where they wanted “donations.” And some of the farmers would don rice paddy hats and throw bamboo poles with buckets on either end over their shoulders so you could take an “authentic” picture with a farmer. Which somehow seemed wrong to me?

That evening, Dan did some research, and we found another (much better) guide for the next day, Dewa. Among other cultural insights, he explained that there are multiple entry gates to Hindu temples. The first set, which is farther away, is broken in half because your thoughts are still splintered and you’re not yet ready to pray and only pray. The second gate, which leads directly to the temple, is whole because you have left everything else behind you and are only thinking about God.

We went to the temple Taman Ayun first, which is situated in a pretty park and surrounded by water.

Then we tried the infamous stinky fruit, durian. It wasn’t too bad, though I’m in no rush to sample it again.

Then we drove to Ulun Danu Beratan temple in Bedugul. The temple is featured on the back of the 50,000 rupiah note, and it was neat to see! While usually surrounded by water, the level in the lake was very low so we were able to walk around the base of the temple. I went and purchased our tickets using Bahasa Indonesia, and the guy at the counter was so surprised to hear a tourist using Bahasa that he gave us a discount! Woo!

Then we went to another rice paddy area which was much more stunning and much less crowded.

We journeyed to Tanah Lot after that to catch the sunset. It’s a beautiful temple on the sea and a popular (crowded) sunset spot. We stuck around for an hour or so, but decided to head out before the actual sunset.

We had Dewa help us find a warung to sample traditional Balinese food, and we were thoroughly pleased with the results. We had ayam betutu, a chicken dish!

DSCF0083
Our inspiration

Before bed I walked Dan and Laila through the giant batik bag of gifts I was sending back with them for everyone back home. We were looking at some swathes of fabric from Bu Mul when we decided we had to wrap them around ourselves like sarongs and practice balancing pillows on our heads like Balinese women. It was goofy and hilarious.

 

The next day was only a half day because we had planes to catch (Dan and Laila back to the US via some insane route that meant they circumnavigated the globe 4.7 times; me to Jogja).

We went to a pasar in Denpasar and saw vendors selling all sorts of things including lot and lots of fish and chicken and pork. Also women you could pay to carry your groceries in baskets on their heads—human shopping carts!

Our first stop of the day was Mandala Puja Worship Center, a complex with five houses of worship all next to one another (a mosque, Catholic church, Buddhist temple, Protestant church, and Hindu temple). In a time that has some serious religious conflicts going on, it was a welcome reminder that religions can and do coexist peacefully.

Next we went to Ulu Watu, a temple high up on a cliff on the Indian Ocean. It was boiling hot and I wanted desperately to jump down and splash around in the sea.

We were going to check out a few beaches as well (which is what Bali is famous for), but we didn’t have time. We opted instead for lunch and another sampling of Balinese fare—this time, babi guling (suckling pig). Pork is scarce on Java because it’s not halal, so it was a nice change of pace.

After lunch we headed to the airport and I bid farewell to Dan and Laila. Which was hard. And sad. It was really nice to see them and be with family around the holidays.

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After a long journey back to Wonosari which included a plane, two busses, an ojek (motocrcycle taxi), and lots of rain, I made some peppermint tea and sorted through the ENORMOUS bag of food and Christmas/birthday presents Dan and Laila had dragged from home. Family didn’t seem so far away after all.

Join me next time, December Travels, Part III: The In-Between (Abridged)

bh

December Travels, Part I: Here Be Dragons

December Travels, Part I: Here Be Dragons

It’s been far too long since I’ve posted something and I apologize for being such a horrible blogger. Because of end-of-semester exams and end-of-year holidays, I had about five weeks off between Thanksgiving and the New Year. I decided to take that time to do a mix of domestic and international travel with friends, as well as pockets of staycation.

January 4th I went back to school and had a rough few weeks transitioning back to doing the thing I’m here to do. Then last Sunday all of us ETAs flew to Jakarta (just a few days after the bombings) for a Mid-Year Conference. Now I’m back and ready to finally start unpacking my adventures from the past month.

Without further ado, here’s travel blog one!

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December 1-7: Flores, Indonesia

On December 1st I flew to the small port city of Labuan Bajo on the island Flores and met up with eight other ETAs. Flores is in the east in the NTT (Nusa Tenggara Timor) province. This marked the first time I’d left the island of Java. The second I stepped off the plane I knew this was a very different place. There was an overwhelming quiet. We left the runway and found the noise while waiting for a cab. Some sort of parade was going on and all of these trucks blasting music and packed with people standing in the beds waving yellow flags kept driving by in the distance. No clue what was happening, but it looked like fun and was something I’d never seen on Java.

As we got to our hotel and explored the downtown area the differences between shy, quiet, reserved Java and boisterous Flores became stronger. Java is predominantly Muslim; many of the women wear jilbabs and the standard male haircut is close-cut. Flores, on the other hand, is largely Christian, which meant I saw more hair than I had in my past three months—both from uncovered women and dreadlock-sporting men. The people and the pace of life seemed much more relaxed and reggae was everywhere. Definitely a much more Caribbean feel. There was also alcohol (!) which is (1) definitely not in Wonosari and (2) not very prevalent even in large cities. There was also no doubt the sea was an integral part of everyone’s livelihood here.

Those of us who got in on December 1 spent the first day in awe enjoying the beauty of the cliffs and the sea. The next day we hiked to a waterfall, did some cliff jumping, and then met up with the others, who spent the day in awe enjoying the beauty of the cliffs and the sea. We also arranged a 3 day/2 night boat trip to explore the waters and islands around Labuan Bajo. The biggest draw is Komodo National Park (Taman Nasional Komodo), home to the famed komodo dragons, but there was a lot of awesome stuff around and we wanted to make the most of our short time here.

The nine of us joined four crew members and had an amazing time sleeping and eating (some of the best food I’ve had in Indo) on our own private boat. I’m not usually one for relaxing on vacation and generally prefer to fill every second running around snapping pictures. But this trip was filled with lazing around on deck enjoying the beautiful weather and breathtaking scenery, and I loved every second of it. After three months of struggling through to make sense of my new life, laying around reading, enjoying the sun, and chatting with a collection of awesome humans—IN ENGLISH—was exactly what I needed. PLUS, we really also did a whole lot.

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Highlights:

–Visiting Rinca and Komodo, two of the islands that comprise Komodo National Park and some of the only in the world where komodo dragons exist. Both islands were arid and scrubby, and looked like the places you’ve always imagined dragons would live. Rinca had about 2,500-2,700 dragons and around 2,000 people. Komodos, which grow to about 3m/10ft long and can weight up to 150 pounds, are the largest lizards on the planet. They’re also incredibly deadly, with 60 types of bacteria frolicking around in their mouths. This means that when they bite their prey (deer, water buffalo, other komodo dragons, humans, unicorns, etc) they don’t die because of venom, but disease and blood loss. After biting prey, komodos often santai (relax) and wait for the bite (blood loss, shock, sickness) to do the job; they’ll simply lounge around slowly trailing their maimed prey until it’s dead and they can feast. Sometimes they hunt alone, sometimes in groups of up to five. They look big and lazy, and their walk is just goofy—they swing out one of their front legs and the back leg on the opposite side and slink forward. But then we saw one lunge at a deer and caught a glimpse of how terrifying it would be to have one attack you. It also doesn’t help that the nearest hospital that can treat a komodo bite isn’t on the island or even nearby (4 hours away) on the mainland in Labuan Bajo, but further away in Bali.

And now everything you’ve ever wanted to know komodo mating! We saw a nest, which was a large earth hump with a dozen or so holes that looked spectacularly unimpressive. Like badger holes or something. One of the holes contains about 15-30 eggs. The others are all decoy booby trap holes to catch sneaky cannibal komodos. The eggs spend 2 months in the mother’s belly and 9 in the hole. For the first three months or so the mother does nothing but guard her holes and loses about 30 pounds. Then she gets bored and wanders away. After they hatch, baby komodos scamper up and live in nearby trees for 3-5 years, eating whatever poor souls happen to climb into their death tree. Any komodos that are too slow climbing up or decide to climb down too soon fall victim to cannibalistic komodos, including their own mother who has seemingly forgotten that she cared so much for them before…

Komodo Island itself is larger than Rinca and has about 200 more dragons. The dragons, by the way, aren’t kept in enclosures but are free to wander the island like wild sheep or squirrels. Except they’ll eat you. As such, you have to walk the island with two guides, one in front and one in back, who carry long, forked wooden sticks. A thin, frail wooden stick carried by a mere mortal doesn’t seem enough protection from deadly, fire-breathing, flying beasts, but somehow they work. I suspect they’re secretly wizard staffs.

–Sunset near Flying Fox Island, where we were able to see thousands of flying foxes (read: GIANT BATS) waking up and heading out to hunt.

The black specks are giant bats
The black specks are giant bats

–Snorkeling at Pantai Merah (Pink Beach). My first time snorkeling!! I splashed around with some amazing coral and awesome tropical fish. And the coolest part? I stumbled upon a sea turtle with a shell that was about the size of my chest and creepily stalked it for a while.

–Snorkeling with manta rays in open water. They’re BIG.

–Star gazing on the deck of the ship and marveling at the beauty of the night sky.


 

After getting back into Labuan Bajo, six of us flew to Ende on the other side of the island, where we planned to drive to Moni at the base of mount Kelimutu (home to three color-changing crater lakes). Before the boat, we met a guy at the bar in The OrangeLabuan Bajo who said he was from Moni and told us to call him if we needed a place to stay. We decided why not and ended up staying in a guest house his friend owned. He also picked us up from the airport and drove us the hour or so to Moni. His car was called The Orange and I’m convinced he was a contestant on Pimp My Ride; there was no trunk space because an enormous speaker system took up most of it, the interior was cushy black and orange leather, and the stick shift was an intricately carved penis. We nicknamed it the dick shift.

We were going to hike for sunrise the next morning, but didn’t have plans for the evening. Our guide said there was a hot spring nearby. We thought it’d be fun so decided to go. We drive up the mountain a little and then he stops. We get out. We’re on the side of the road. It’s dark. There are no lights and certainly no hot springs nearby. Then he starts walking into the rice paddy to our left. It’s dark and we can’t see much, even with a flashlight and a few phones. But we follow. He slips and falls down. We contemplate the poor decision we made. We press on. We wonder if we’ll die in the middle of rice paddies. Finally we arrive at a small pond. He takes off his shirt and gets in. The water goes up to his shins so he lays down. We look at each other. We follow suit. The water is actually delightfully warm. The fear of being eaten by an enormous snake in the middle of nowhere slowly faded away as we laid down and enjoyed chatting and stargazing.

The next morning we woke up early and headed to Kelimutu. We drove up most of the way and then hiked for twenty minutes or so. The sunrise was nice, the scenery beautiful, and two of the lakes (we couldn’t find the third) sort of different colors!

After that, some of us headed to Ende to catch a flight back to Java while others headed to Maumere for their flight the next day. On the way to Ende we were stopped because the road—curvy, high up, and mountainous—was under construction. The only reason we didn’t wait an hour was because an ambulance came through and they had to let it go, so we followed close behind. The airport in Ende is somehow smaller than the one in Labuan Bajo and rivals Harry Potter’s cupboard under the stairs.

Other fun pictures:

Tune in soon for December Travels, Part II: Kakak dan Kakak Ipar Saya

Until next time,
bh