SpooOoOOoky (or Halloweendonesia)

Happy Halloween from the past
My older siblings and me ready to roll out and get mad amounts of candy

Happy Halloween, everyone!

For 364 days of the year we’re told not to take candy from strangers. On Halloween it’s aight. But only if you’re dressed as a wizard or a skeleton or a firefighter or a princess. Or a skeleton princess wizard firefighter. I never realized how freaking weird Halloween really is until I tried explaining it to my students and fellow teachers. But it is so weird.

To celebrate the holiday here I will be dressing as a confused foreigner and going door to door trying to get dinner so I don’t have to eat ramen and bananas again.

In honor of October 31st and all things spooky, here’s a choose your own adventure starring you and an assortment of Indonesian ghosts. Read the text, choose one option, skip to the section it tells you to. Repeat until you’re done. You could just read it all at once, but that’s lame and not exciting and not nearly as spOooOOOookyY

There’s a Ghost in My Fork:

You plan an awesome after school Halloween party with your students where you carve watermelons, make paper masks, and talk about American monsters and Indonesian ghosts. You lose track of time and before you know it it’s dark. You stay behind to clean up and one of your students offers to give you a ride to your home on his motorbike. You politely decline; you’re only a ten minute walk from the school and the cool night air will feel nice after a day spent sweating in the heat.

You head home, following a route you’ve taken many times before. You reach the three-way fork with the mango tree and know you’re almost back. You’re about to take the left fork like always when you notice a figure standing in the middle of the road.

What do you do?

  1. Take the middle fork just to be safe. —> Proceed to Pocong
  2. Continue towards the figure. —> Proceed to Kuntilanak
  3. Run down the right fork as fast as you can. —> Proceed to Tuyul
  4. Turn and jog away from the fork. —> Proceed to Nyi Roro Kidul


The figure creeped you out a little, so you decide just to take the middle fork instead. You’ve gone this way before, and you’re pretty sure you know your way back. All of a sudden you hear a thudding behind you bumpbump bumpbump. You stop walking. The bumpbump stops. You take a step. Bumpbump. Frightened, you start walking faster and keep your eyes focused ahead. Bumpbump bumpbump bumpbumpbumpbump. Not stopping, you turn around and see a rotting, pale green face with two gaping, hollow eye sockets. The rest of the body is wrapped in a white Muslim burial shroud. You’re speedwalking with the vigor of a 90 year old mall walker who wants to make it to 100. The thing is swaddled like a baby and hopping, yes, hopping, behind you and this would probably be hilarious except you see its skin peeling away from its face and you’re about to pee yourself.

Crap. A pocong. Its burial shroud, like all Muslims burial shrouds, is tied in three places: over the head, around the neck, and under the feet. If the ties aren’t undone after 40 days, the soul of the deceased cannot escape and so the body hops on out of the grave and frolics around. If it finds you, it’ll follow you forever, like a puppy except a corpse. Great.

What do you do?

  1. Turn around, plant your feet, wave your arms, and scream at it.

    You decide to confront the pocong by standing in its way, wildly waving your arms, and loudly screaming profanities. This was a poor decision. You stood in the pocong’s way and ain’t nobody gonna stand in pocong’s way. It kills you. It may not have arms or legs and may essentially be a giant Easter Bunny minus the candy, but still, it kills you.

  2. Stop, drop, and play dead.

    You fall to the ground and pretend to be dead. The pocong hops around your body, bends as close to you as it can in its rather stiff shroud, sighs “Not again,” and continues hoppin’ on down the road. You swear you hear it softly and soulfully singing Adele’s new hit single, “Hello.”

  3. Approach the pocong and wrap your arms around it in a warm and awesome hug.

    You decide to do the only logical thing when faced with a zombie corpse–you give it love. After years without any human contact, the pocong likes this and you know it would hug you back if its arms weren’t trapped. You unwrap the ties that keep the shroud in place, and it falls away. Finally free, the pocong soars up up and away.



You hear the faint sound of a crying baby coming from somewhere, but think you spot a bakso cart next to the figure. It must be a vendor going to sell some food with his kid. Excited at the prospect of food, you move forward with purpose, a smile on your face and a spring in your step. You get closer and realize to your disappointment that what you thought was a food cart is actually just a pile of construction rubble and a banana tree.

Then you remember the figure and look at it. It’s a beautiful woman. Random, but okay. You mutter “selamat malam” and continue on your way. But something makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. You turn around. Where the beautiful woman stood is now an extremely pale woman dressed in white, her long, black hair covering her face. You notice her nails are very long and very sharp. You are very scared. Crap. A kuntilanak. The spirit of a woman who died in childbirth.

What do you do next?

  1. Scream

    You start to scream and she pounces on you, digging her fingernails into your stomach and feasting on your organs. Your eyes went wide when she pounced, so she sucks them out for dessert. If you’re male, she rips off your man parts and devours those too. Finger lickin’ good

  2. Run down the road.

You ran track in high school and know you can outrun her. But she ran track too. She catches up to you and pounces, digging her long but recently manicured and nicely painted fingernails into your stomach and feasting on your organs. If you’re male, she rips off your man parts and devours those too. I guess they’re halal?

3. Dive behind the pile of construction crap. 

You cut yourself on something sharp. It’s a nail. You’re about to toss it away when you remember something. The kuntilanak pounces on you and you drive the nail into the back of her neck. She turns back into the beautiful woman and smiles at you. The two of you get married and spend the rest of your life together. Hope you didn’t want children. And don’t take the nail out or she’ll feast on your organs.



Creeped out by whatever the hell was standing in the middle of the road, you take off running down the right fork to get away from it. After about ten minutes, you slow down to catch your breath. You’ve got your hands on your knees, you’re hunched over staring at the ground, and you’re panting like crazy. All of a sudden you see something small dart by you. You whip your head sideways and catch a glimpse of a sickly green and gray toddler darting into a bush. It’s naked with small hands, a large head, pointy ears, and razor sharp teeth. You see its enormous red eyes staring at you. Crap. A tuyul.

What do you do next?

  1. Slowly approach the bush.

You offer it some oleh-oleh from America and a few drops of your blood. It cautiously approaches you and you become fast friends. The tuyul steals money and jewelry from everyone in town for you and in return you give it milk in the mornings, sweets throughout the day, and your constant love and affection. The two of you enjoy listening to Taylor Swift’s 1989 together and have matching red batik shirts.

2. Ignore it and keep walking down the path.

If the tuyul doesn’t have a master, then it won’t cause you any harm. After five minutes or so you realize that you have no idea where you are. You stop and look around to figure it out. And then the tuyul springs on you and, like an angry oompa loompa, kicks you in the shin, bites your foot, steals your backpack, and runs off into the night. It had a master.
You collapse. That sucked, but you have your life, if not your pride. And then you realize your passport and all three dozen documents you need to give to immigration in order to legally stay in the country were in your backpack so now you’ll have to go to the immigration office at least 27½ more times and you scream and scream and scream because you have your life but you’re in hell.

3. Rummage through your backpack.

You dig into your backpack and pull out some marbles and a few beans. Thank God you always carry some around in case you run into evil demon ghost toddlers. You throw them at the tuyul, which comes out from the bush and gets distracted by playing with the objects. You quietly open Google Maps and slip away to find your way home.


Nyi Roro Kidul

Your heart starts beating fast at the sight of the figure, so you turn around and begin lightly running (you don’t want to panic) back the way you came. Then you hear something crunch beside you and you break into a run. You try to angle towards the school, but take a wrong turn somewhere and end up at the beach. The full moon illuminates the sand and the water. The beach is quiet and stunning. You pull on a green sweatshirt from your backpack and sit on the beach to think about life. You’re pondering how not to be a failure when you see a figure (what is with all these figures tonight?!) rising out of the sea. It is a beautiful woman, no mermaid, clad in green. She looks regal. Crap. It’s Nyi Roro Kidul (Queen of the Southern Sea).

What do you do next?

  1. Pick up a nearby shell and throw it at her.

You grab a shell by your foot and chuck it at her. Your shell finds its target. “Ouch,” Nyi Roro Kidul says. Unfortunately, your shell was just a shell and NRK is a mythic spirit-queen who lures people to their deaths. Next thing you know she’s wrapped her clammy arms around you and you’re making a bee-line for the water. First your toes, then your torso, then finally your head all go under and you’re left with the horrific realization that you left your iPhone on the beach.

2. Rummage through your backpack.

You unzip your backpack and whip out a serving tray, a thermos of hot, sweet tea, and a few Tupperware containers of snacks. You put your green sweatshirt over your backpack to create a makeshift table between you the mythic sea queen. You politely serve everything and invite NRK to eat and drink, saying “Silahkan, makan. Silahkan, minum.” Pleasantly surprised, she accepts your hospitality and the two of you chat until dawn. Before she heads back to her underwater kingdom she asks for your BBM pin and adds you on Facebook.

3. Scramble to your feet.

You quickly stand up, wrapping the green sweatshirt tightly around you. Big mistake. Green is Nyi Roro Kidul’s special color and you DO NOT wear her special color. Not ever. She rips the sweatshirt off you, ties it around your ankles, and drags you into the sea. You try clawing at the sand to latch onto something, but quickly give up and take solace in the fact that you have a granola bar in your pocket.


Thank you for playing. You should know that while I was writing this (at night, by myself) a cat (maybe??) almost came in through my open front door and I about had a heart attack. I finished writing from the safety of my bedroom.

Until next time,



On How I Became a Singing Monkey

This post is going to be mostly pictures because who wants to read when you can see?

Speeches and Sunatan

A few weeks ago my school held elections for what I think is basically student body president. The whole school watched each of the six candidates gave a speech (some had bits of English in them!). Afterwards they began voting and anyone who wanted could get up on the stage they’d set up and sing or play music. Everyone kept asking me to sing as well. When I asked if they would too they laughed at me and told me again to sing. I decided I’d suck it up and sing in front of everyone—this was a chance to demystify myself. I racked my brain and was only confident I knew musical theatre songs, so planned on singing “On the Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady. Not exactly a bumpin’ pop tune, but it’s what I had.

Right before I went up, one of the students ran up to me and asked me to sing Sam Smith’s “I’m Not the Only One.” Love Sam Smith, love the song, sing it in the shower all the time. So I ditched the musical, pulled up the lyrics, and sang through it a cappella with the student singing in my ear to keep me on track. Pretty fun time!

Later that day, Bu Mul invited me to attend a sunatan, which is a circumcision party with her. Think Sweet 16 or Bar Mitzvah but with a 10 year old boy and circumcision. The sunat (circumcision) usually happens right after the party. Sometimes the family will go to a doctor, other times they will go to a specialist called a bong. Apparently the latter is quicker and less bloody, and they use a spray anesthetic instead of a needle. Now though you can also use a laser, which is even quicker, even less bloody, and even less painful after the fact. Everyone was shocked when I explained that circumcision in the United States usually happens at birth.

So we walked up to a large tent and there were three traditional Javanese singers and a small band performing. When they saw me they had a field day. Two of the singers, basically MCs, rushed up to me and started interviewing me and laughing loudly. I did my best to talk, and then they asked if I’d sing for everyone. I’d already done it once so I figured why not. This time I actually did go with the My Fair Lady song though. People were up in my face taking videos and photos, but it was slow enough that I was able to power through. The guy on keyboard tried to accompany at one point which we both quickly realized was a horrible mistake, but it was fun.

Then they asked me to sing again and the keyboard player insisted I sing “Yesterday” by the Beatles. I’d heard it, but I didn’t know it. And most of my performance consisted of me mumbling and looking apologetically and confusedly in every direction.

After I monkeyed it up, we moved into another tent with food set up. There were no tables, just a bank of folding chairs facing the food. Everyone sat down and balanced their plate(s) in their laps. I struggled with this but was able to keep from spilling boiling soup all over my khakis. For dessert we had Coke. They also had strawberry Fanta, but I learned my lesson about drinking it; the flavor is much closer to cough syrup mixed with a bucket of sugar and a gallon of red than anything tasty.

Then we left. Questions I still have: who was the party for? Where was he? What exactly are the lyrics to “Yesterday”?


Also visited Goa Pindul, a cave nearby Wonosari, with Bu Mul. There’s a river running through the cave and a whole bunch of tourists riding down it in black inner tubes. Think Lazy River, but in a cave with bats and a life vest. After the cave we went to a river and floated down that too. Again, think Lazy River but with lizards and a life vest. We had to paddle ourselves with our flip flops quite a bit, but the scenery was beautiful. I climbed up and jumped in the river from a little (slightly sketchy) bamboo bridge about high dive height above the water. Then I climbed up to another platform that was 8m (26ft) up and did a pencil dive in! It was a bit jarring, but totally worth it.

Indonesian Wedding

Much like their funerals and their sunatan, Indonesian pernikahan (weddings) are very come-and-go events. The wedding was held in a large event center and after Bu and I entered we began walking on a carpet the was lined with dozens and dozens of people. The women were all in their finest pink (this couple’s wedding color, I think), and the men in suave batik and suits. We greeted each and every one of them. Who were they? I assumed family, but am still unsure.

The line led up to a stage. We walked up and greeted an older pink-clad couple. Then it was time for the bride and groom who were dressed to the nines and looking fine but also looking exhausted and forcing smiles because literally all they do for the two hour wedding/reception is stand and shake people’s hands. Then we greeted another older pink-clad couple. I assumed the couples flanking the new husband and wife were their parents.

We walked off the stage met with another (smaller) line of people to greet, and then were set loose. There were buffet tables with food in the center of the room and folding chair set up on the edges, all facing the center. You go to one of the food tables, grab a small plate of food, and fight to find a seat somewhere. As with the circumcision bash, there are no tables so eating is an adventure. After a few rounds of food, we got up and left. We were there for about twenty minutes and it seems everyone did the same.

Just realized while writing this that I have no idea what the actual ceremony and ritual is like. Just asked Pak Rifa about it and he said that the ceremony happens a few weeks before with just family. What everyone else goes to is just the reception.

New Gang

I also joined the neighborhood biker gang. The members, who like to stop by and scream my name at all hours of the day, include the following (note, “Mas” is used as a title for young men and “Mbak” for young women):

Mas Akil (7 yrs)
Mas Rafi (7 yrs)
Mas Ahil (7 yrs)
Mas Ale (8 yrs)
Mas Farel (8 yrs)
Mas Fari (8 yrs)
Mas Rido (9 yrs)
Mas Fiska (9 yrs)
Mbak Dalfa (9 yrs)
Mas Ian (10 yrs)
Mas Alif (10 yrs)
Mas Hilmi (10 yrs)
Mas Rizal (10 yrs)
Mas Arda (10 yrs)
Mbak Vany (10 yrs)
Mas Adi (11 yrs)
Mas Erwin (12 yrs)
Mas Wega (12 yrs)
Mbak Jhelsea
Mas Tedy
Mas Riyan

I’ll try and post more words and more pictures and more frequently after my nightmare with immigration is over. They love seeing me so much that they reject me so I’ll keep coming back. Considering bringing a blanket, pillow, and camping stove and moving in.

Until next time,


Staycation All I Ever Wanted

The past week my students all had midterm exams, so I had myself a staycation.

Among my many adventures were the following:

–Bryan learns to cook hard boiled eggs

–Bryan reads a book (Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake)

–Bryan binge watches the first season of The Legend of Korra (thank you fellow ETA Grace for sharing)

–Bryan explores the post office

–Bryan bikes around looking for an ATM that will accept his card

–Bryan begins a home workout routine (courtesy of Nebrascal Rachel)

–Bryan creates a “Pump up JamZ” playlist

–Bryan cleans his bathroom

–Bryan finds a juice shop with smoothies and WiFi

–Bryan talks with lots of strangers to practice his Bahasa skills

–Bryan re-downloads the smartphone game Clash of Clans

–Bryan forgets it’s October and then remembers and pines for cool weather, orange leaves, and pumpkin spice

And a few longer adventures:

Indonesian Funeral

My Bu texted me one morning asking if there were lots of people around because of the death. Death? What? She told me the RW, the head of the neighborhood’s, mother had passed away. I’d just begun my new morning workout routine and was in the middle of determining what exactly a calf raise was when my gate grates open and a motorcycle drives up. Bu is here. I try to make myself presentable, turn down my Pump up JamZ and open the door. She hands me a potato peeler and says there aren’t lots of people around. Great!

She sits down and says she’s only staying for five minutes. Very confused but trying to go with the flow, I ask what the custom is when someone dies. She told me that I should go to his door later and say “ikut berbela sungkawa atas meninggalnya ibu Anda” which roughly translates to “condolences for the death of your mother.” And then as quickly as she swooped in she swooped out.

I finished figuring out calf raises and had just moved onto proper squat technique when GRRRRATEE the gate scrapes open and a motorcycle drives up again. Not even ten minutes later, Bu’s back. She walks in and tells me to get dressed. We were going to the funeral. Oh of course, yes.

The funeral’s on the other side of the ‘hood, and on the way I try furiously memorizing the condolence phrase she equipped me with. Then she hands me an envelope and tells me to hold onto it. We get to the street with the funeral, and there’s a long awning set up with five or six very long rows of blue metal chairs, all facing forward. We walk by a wooden donation-esque box and Bu tells me to put the envelope in and then she says she will sit with the ibu-ibu (women) and that I’ll be with the bapak-bapak (men). She peeled herself away from me to sit down and I stood standing, blocking the aisle, confused and lost. My guiding light just peaced out. What was I supposed to do? Was I supposed to talk to people? How long would this last? Who’s even part of the grieving family? HELP.

I sat down by myself and looked around. It reminded me much more of what I know as a wake than a funeral. Many people were sitting around chatting, others were moving through the crowd greeting everyone (the family?). Muslim prayer was coming from a large speaker facing everyone. I couldn’t see anyone actually saying the prayer, so it may have been recorded funeral prayer? As is customary for Muslim funerals, there was no body. The RW, the only person I knew, came up to me and shook my hand and I blurted out my condolence phrase. Later he and a sister (?) passed out snack boxes with water cups and coconut-filled bread. Indonesians love these little snack boxes, they give them out everywhere. I love them too.

A little while later Bu came over and told me we’d head back to the house. We were there about 30 minutes. I asked Pak Rifa later what exactly was in the envelope. He confirmed my thought that it was a little bit of money. I asked whether it was customary to include a card with your name on it as well, but he said no. The envelopes are all anonymous.

Air Terjun

A day or so after, my Bahasa Indonesia tutor, Pak Aat, invited me to visit his family in Playen, a village about a half hour away. I chatted a bit with them, had the customary “guest hot sweet tea and snacks,” and then we headed out to go to a nearby cave (goa) and waterfall (air terjun). The cave was small, but really awesome, complete with a giant, ancient tree growing outside. It looked like a set for Indiana Jones (Indonesia Jones??).

To get to the waterfall, we took the adventurous route through some rice paddies. Despite many warnings of “licin” (“slippery”), I slipped and almost fell flat on my face. Whoops. These are some of the first rice paddies I’ve seen and the whole area was remarkably green. It’s still the dry season, and so much of the countryside right now is dry, brown, and scrubbish. But this spot was lush and vibrant!

When we got to the waterfall there were people everywhere climbing around and swimming (and jumping into!) the river below. We spotted three other bules and I was visibly amazed; there are not many white people in Gunung Kidul (the area of the Yogyakarta district that I live in). We took off our shoes like everyone else and barefoot we scaled the waterfall. I’ve always thought of myself as semi-nimble, but following Pak Aat I realized that he is a nimble, expert scaler, while I am more like a giant camera-wielding tourist bear, sloshing through the water on all fours trying desperately not to end up spread-eagle and doing anything for the perfect pic. We hung around for a while, I took a ridiculous amount of pictures, and then we headed back up the river on a boat that looked straight out of Jurassic Park.


That evening, I decided I wanted some more adventure and went on a short bike ride around my neighborhood. I went down a new street and ran into a few kids (anak-anak). We chatted a little bit and they were shocked to hear I was from America. They took me to meet some of their friends and family and we talked a little more. I was proud of practicing what little Bahasa I have. It was almost dark, so I told them I needed to go home and that I’d see them again soon. I didn’t realize just how soon…

Two of the boys followed me home and by the time I realized it was too late for me to pretend I didn’t live there. I figured this is part of my cultural exchange duties as a Fulbrighter, so I invited them onto my porch. They ran and got one of their friends and the three of us talked a little. I brought out some candy and some oleh-oleh for them (an Uncle Sam duck, some flag keychains, a rubber bracelet that championed my middle school mascot and said “Hornet Pride”). They were very excited. They asked if I had any English books, so I brought out a cool picture/alphabet book I brought called Animalia. We spent some time naming things in English and then they asked if I had any games. Of course, I didn’t know what they were asking me because I hadn’t yet learned “toy” and “game” and “play.” We spent a good 10 minutes trying to figure one another out. Usually I depend on Google Translate and have whomever I’m speaking to spell out what they’re saying. But these were 8/10/11 year old kids and their spelling was a bit rough…

Finally figured it out and brought a candycorn-shaped, Halloween-themed deck of cards out. I tried to explain Halloween to them and then they started playing some sort of card game. They just jumped right on in, no explanations, sink or swim. I think I figured it out though by the end of the second round. After that they went home.

I wake up the next morning to children crying out “Pak Bryan Pak Bryan Pak Bryan PAK BRYAN PAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAK BRYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANNNNNNNNNNNNNN.” Half-asleep I stumble to my porch and mumble-slur any and all Bahasa words that come to my mind including belum, chapek, and nanti (“not yet,” “tired,” “later”). I think they figured it out because they stopped screaming my name.

The kids who followed me home
The kids who followed me home

They came back later—there were four this time—but I was prepared. I decided I’d try to teach them Uno and that if they were gonna come I’d work to teach them some English too. I went through colors and numbers with them and then we played. They didn’t quite get it, but we had a pretty good game. Two of the kids were new, so I brought out some oleh-oleh for them too. And then I found out (after much difficulty with deciphering Bahasa) that they really loved the rubber bracelets. So then we spent 15 minutes going through colors and talking about the words on them. Then I gave them chocolate and they all skipped away. I was pretty happy about the whole interaction, but worried that they’d come back everyday…

And I was right…they returned about noon the next day while I was making myself some lunch. PAK BRYANNNNNNNNN PAAAAAAK BRYYYYYAN PAAAAAAAAAAAAK BRYAAAAN. I thought it would be good to ignore them and that they’d go away fairly quickly once they realized I wasn’t home. But I was horribly mistaken. I spent the next thirty minutes cowering in my kitchen trying to cook as silently as possible while all around me were frenzied shouts of PAK BRYAN. It literally sounded like I’d been missing for a week and there was a search party desperately trying to find me. They ran up and down the street, got close to my gate, to the wall on my side yard, to the side gate (which had a direct view of the kitchen door [and I prayed they couldn’t see me because it’s kind of translucent]). I considered going out and just asking them to come back later, but by the time I had this thought too much time had passed and I didn’t want to reveal that I had been home all along and just hiding from them because then they’d know in the future that just because I don’t come to the door doesn’t mean I’m not home and I can’t reveal all my tricks yet. By the time I’d finished eating lunch they’d grown bored and drifted away (passing by very briefly about an hour later flinging out a few PAK BRYANs as they went careening off to another corner of town). It may not have been the best way to handle the situation, and I would love to hang out with them again at some point, but I can’t every day and I do need time to do things like eat. Hopefully they don’t hate Americans forever now.

Until next time,