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




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.

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

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!

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.


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)


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!

jogja to labuan bajo.png

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.



–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,

Happy Thanksgiving!


Turkey Business
Thanksgiving with English Club!

Happy Thanksgiving all!

Because Thanksgiving is about celebrating, food, and recognizing what we’re grateful for, I thought I’d talk about all three today.


I wasn’t able to incorporate Thanksgiving into my regular lessons because we were prepping for the end of the semester exams, but I was able to have some Thanksgiving fun in English club.

Thanksgiving: Abridged
Thanksgiving: Abridged

First I gave a brief rundown of what Thanksgiving is. Fourth Thursday of November. Settlers came over on a boat for religious freedom. They couldn’t feed themselves. Native Americans helped them not die. In 1623 they celebrated together.

Today it’s all about feasting, family, and giving thanks.

Cue lots of food pics—turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes (with marshmallows), turnips (for my grandfather), stuffing, gravy, corn, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, apple pie. The works.

Then more pictures of turkeys.

Then I handed everyone a piece of orange cardstock and we traced our non-dominant hand and turned it into a turkey. We decorated with markers, crayons, and colored pencils. Thank you to Mrs. Brockman, my first grade teacher (who also taught my three siblings), for having us all make these turkeys. And thank you to my mother for laminating them and hanging them in the kitchen each November. In the palm of the turkey we wrote “I am thankful for…” and each turkey feather had something we’re grateful for.

Then I gave everyone a paper feather. We wrote one of the things we’re thankful for on it. Then we played pin the feather on the turkey.

Finally, I took all the feathers off the white board and put them on a toilet paper roll turkey. Fun was had by all and the turkey now sits proudly on my desk.

What we're thankful for
What we’re thankful for 


And now for some info on food in Indonesia: where I get it and what it is.

I do the vast majority of my grocery shopping at one of the dozen local Indomarets as well as Alfamart (small convenience-type stores that carry eggs, instant noodles, and bread). But I always buy my laundry detergent and Oreos from the corner store near me because I like talking with the employees.

Bu Mul has taught me how to cook some dishes and sometimes will cook meals for the two of us. Which is always great.

Other times I’ll buy food from nearby warungs (street food stalls).

My favorite lunch spot sells lotek (a salad-like dish) and dawet (an extremely sweet drink with lots of gelatinous mystery chunks that are very popular here). Not a huge fan of the drink, but love lotek and love Bu Sri, the woman who runs the stand. Though now her daughter has taken over. Also, there’s a tree growing through the middle of the stand. Which is pretty awesome.

My favorite dinner spot is just outside my neighborhood and sells nasi goreng (fried rice), bakmi jawa (Javanese fried noodles), bakmi godong (Javanese noodles in a soup), magelangan (fried rice mixed with fried noodles), and rica-rica (???). My favorite is hands down nasi goreng, which has some eggs, some chicken, some vegetables, and lots of deliciousness. It also comes with cabe (chilis) and acar (very lightly pickled cucumbers). I put the acar on top and eat it with the chilis on the side—taking a bite of chili then a bite of nasi. The cucumbers help cool my mouth down after the chili. And literally right now I just realized that for the first time ever the phrase “cool as a cucumber” makes sense to me.

And below are some pictures of the infamous “boxes” that are everywhere here. They’re served (in either snack or meal form) at any event you could possibly think of (which is nice because, food). In addition, teachers will bring them in to spread good news and celebrate. I’ve had new baby boxes, wedding boxes, promotion boxes. Everything. It’s great. Not all boxes are created equal though. For example I struggle immensely with the fish boxes because eating an entire fish with a very tiny very flimsy plastic spoon is immensely frustrating (Alanis Morissette should have been singing “it’s like 10,000 spoons when all you need is a DAMN STURDY FORK”). But it’s the thought that counts and it’s always a fun journey opening a box and going through trying everything. Because most of the time there’s at least one mystery item in there.

There’s also an abundance of fruit. Everywhere. All kinds. Unlike money it does grow on trees. And there are fruit trees all over the place. I just recently discovered a markisa (passionfruit) vine on my sideyard. There are mangga (mango) trees across the street, and a kelengkeng (???) bush in my front yard. Bananas, dragonfruit, jackfruit, grapes, everywhere. There are generally two drinks made with fruit. One, es ______ (which means ice), is like lemonade—you squeeze the juice out and add water/sugar. The second, jus, is more of a smoothie—cut up the fruit and put it in a blender with water. Both are delicious.

And here are more food-related pics:

And finally
What am I thankful for?

My family and friends. Talking to you—in whatever form our “talking” takes—helps me stay positive when times get rough and Indonesia seems to be swallowing me whole.

Bu Mul and Pak Rifa. These two people have accepted me into their homes and hearts and are now family.

Teachers. They matter. So much.

Students. They also matter. So much. And mine are wonderful and a pleasure to teach.

Music. It’s nice to hear some friendly catchy English. Or some soulful catchy English when necessary (shoutout to Adele’s 25).

Books. Hours and hours of alone time after sunset at 6 means more time for reading than I’ve had in a while. It’s nice to be able to escape into a good book (shoutout to the entire Harry Potter series—pacing myself but am about to start Goblet of Fire).

Air conditioning. Would be lost without you.

The Indomaret convenience store that stocked Froot Loops.

Thank you, Mrs. Brockman, for giving me inspiration 16 years later.
Thank you, Mrs. Brockman, for giving me inspiration 16 years later.

Take care and have a wonderful, happy Thanksgiving filled with family and great food.
Until next time,

Ode to a Barber

About a month ago I got my first haircut (potong rambut) in Indonesia. The barbershop had one chair, one barber, and me. The haircut and a wash cost 8000 Rupiah or about $0.57. I was having a truly horrendous day filled with all of the worst “WHAT-ARE-YOU-DOING-WHY-ARE-YOU-HERE-YOU’RE-USELESS-GO-HOME” gremlins. The haircut, a simple haircut, made everything okay again.

I wrote a poem at the time. Now, after a second haircut in Indonesia, I think it’s finally time to tell the world of my love for this barber (tukang cukur).

Continue reading “Ode to a Barber”

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