Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sepupu Kecil

This past weekend, while I was hiking waterfalls and doing karaoke (did I post about that? There's definitely pictures up on Picasa), my host dad and host sister were in Jogya for the weekend. Monday night they came back, arriving around 9:30 (late night here) with a passel of kids - four little cousins on summer break, ages 3 to 10, approximately. This being Java, everyone is referred to by titles: Bu and Pak for older married types, Mas and Mbak for younger people (I'm Mbak Emily in class), Gus for a brother, etc ad eternam. Well I was introduced as Tante bule (roughly 'Aunt Whitey'; bule is what non-Indonesian whites are called, not rude but with undertones of 'not from around here'), so now I've got four adorable kids calling me 'tante' ('auntie', more or less). They're thrilled to get to talk to an American, especially one who speaks Bahasa. (You should see the amazed looks I get on the bus when I'm chatting with my tutor.) Like I said, adorable.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Cultural Differences #2, or, The Bathroom Post

This one's a little scatological. If you're not interested in reading about developing-country plumbing, I recommend closing the window.

Don't say I didn't warn you...

This is an appropriate moment to write this one, since for the past few days I've been suffering from a nasty case of Gajah Mada's Revenge. (Gajah Mada: military hero of the Majapahit Empire, circa 1364. Not to be confused with kaca mata, or 'sunglasses'.) I think of it as the Indonesia Diet: eat what you want, 'cause it's not staying in you long. Lucky for me, I've yet to have to use a squat toilet; everywhere I've been has either a choice of that or western-style (school, the airport), or just western (home). Not all my fellow-students are so lucky: at least one or two have squat toilets at their host family's houses. The catch for me, of course, is that the upstairs toilet at least stops looking so western when you put down the lid – there's no tank, no flush lever, no chain to pull. I first realized this, of course, after I'd used it the first time, and had to go ask my host sister what to do next. Welcome to Indonesia, now how the hell does this thing flush? With a bucket, it turns out. In the corner of the bathroom is a tile cistern filled with water. Two bucketfuls in the bowl usually does the trick. The downstairs toilet flushes normally, but (tradeoff time!) there's no toilet paper, just the Indonesian-style water sprayer & soap. Which makes a certain amount of sense – if you accidentally got crap on the floor, would you clean it up with a little toilet paper or would you use soap and water and probably bleach? So why is your skin any different? Still, old habits and aversions die hard, and I generally take the tissue/bucket option at home. The toilet at school is perennially out of paper, since the staff there can't seem to fathom that we actually use the stuff. 'Tissue-minded people', as Pak Peter likes to say.

So you've used the loo, now you want to wash your hands. Catch: there's no sink. Or rather, there is, you're standing in it. The whole room is tiled, with an ever-so-slightly sloped floor and a drain in the corner. To wash your hands, get water from the cistern with the plastic dipper/jug/thing, pour it over your hands onto the floor, soap, repeat. Some places have a little spigot coming out of the wall, if you want running water. It's impossible to step into the kamar mandi here without getting your feet wet. I recommend foregoing socks.

And to shower? You were standing in the sink; you're standing in the shower. Again: get a dipper full of water from the cistern, pour it over your head, lather, rinse, repeat. And while you're at it, wash your underwear. The pembantu does laundry twice a week, but you're expected to wash your own socks & underthings, generally in the shower every day. Naked laundry! It was an awkward moment when I found this out: on the first day, my host sister pointed to a hamper in the hallway and said, your dirty clothes go in here. A few days later my peer tutor timidly explained to me that 'dirty clothes' meant shirts, pants, and skirts only, and nobody was going to touch that hamper until I took out the underwear and washed it myself. So that night before dinner she came over, the pembantu gave me a wash basin and laundry soap (for the larger load, more than a single day's worth), and she and my host sister sat around the bathroom and chatted while I washed my delicates. This was the same day that it was explained to me that I needed to use more water to flush (still the occasional little bit of paper in the bowl!); that it's customary to ask permission from the ibu before getting up from the table, leaving the room, or going to school; and that while going over to friends' houses is encouraged, it is not entirely acceptable if that friend happens to be a guy, so 'a bunch of us are going over to Mas Wyatt's after school' was maybe not the best request to make. Call it Emily is a Big Fat Rude American Idiot Day. Whoops.

But back to the mandi. The cistern, naturally, has cold water only; it sits out all day and gets used for several functions. It took me about a week to discover that the downstairs bathroom, the one with the flush toilet but no paper, has hot water too, so warm showers are possible. There the bathtub functions as a cistern. Don't even think about sitting/standing/laying in it though – you take the water from it with a dipper and pour it over yourself standing on the bathroom floor. That's one mistake at least I haven't managed to make. And unlike in Italy, where they thought we Americans were crazy for wanting to shower every day, here you mandi twice a day, usually once in the morning and once before dinner. Which, in an equatorial climate like this one, makes sense – you can get awfully sweaty by dinnertime, water is abundant, and the Javanese are an exceptionally neat and clean people. ('I'll be cleaning your room' on the first day meant 'I'll be going through your luggage and folding all your plastic bags into neat little triangles.' Really.)

That's all I've got for the moment. Between starting this post last night and finishing it now I decided that several days of barely being able to eat qualifies as 'severe' and started on the Cipro the health center gave me for the trip, which seems to be helping enormously. Pardon the anachronism here, but sorry, Gajah Mada: score one for the Dutch.

Cultural Differences #1

In Indonesia, the female soap opera stars have mustaches too.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Kebun Teh Wonosari

This past weekend was an excursion to the Wonosari Tea Plantation, just outside Malang on Mt. Arjuna. The plantation was gorgeous, and they've got an argiturismo thing going on there – playgrounds for kids, cottages to stay in, tours of the factory, pony rides, a little zoo. On the other hand, they've got the biggest bugs I've ever seen: spiders that could eat the wolf spiders in Saranac Lake in one bite and then come back for seconds; big grasshopper things that could give the spiders a good fight. I took pictures, maybe I'll even manage to post them (again, internet very limited). Saw a snake too, and two toads mating in the pool.

We started out with a little hike up through the tea fields up the mountain, which, like all the mountains around here, is actually a volcano. So there, I did that. Homework was to interview some tea pickers, which was less awkward than you'd think, since everyone here is thrilled to talk to Americans, especially the crazy ones who actually speak a little Indonesian. Didn't expect that to come out of my mouth, eh? After lunch we took a train tour of the plantation, complete with commentary that no one understood, and a tour of the factory, which no one understood either. We did learn a pretty awesome Indonesian version of rock-paper-scissors, and got to taste the tea we saw being picked. And yes, I bought a pile to take home. The expensive stuff was a little under $2. Again, I <3 Indonesia.

Next up was some free time, so we wandered over to the little zoo and took pictures with the cassowary, which looks like the love child of an emu and a bear mated with a dinosaur. Big, colorful, and mean looking, with feet that wouldn't be out of place on a pterodactyl. Dinner, some games with the group – felt like summer camp all over again – and some singing by the Indonesians. I escaped when Pak Peter announced that everyone would have to take a turn and went off to stargaze. Great stars out there, but I didn't recognize anything. Guess I really am on the other side of the world.

After breakfast in the morning I headed down to the pool. I hadn't brought a bathing suit, but my clothes from the day before worked just fine. Ever try swimming in long pants and a light sweater? I think someone took pictures. Though with all the girls in jilbab bathing suits, I kind of fit right in.

Poor Yusinta, my peer tutor, got carsick on the way home, with the hot sun & heavy traffic. It's pretty hot here, though after a few days I stopped noticing it, other than being asked by my Indonesian friends on lovely warm evenings, “cold out, isn't it?”, but that car really was a little stifling. I think we passed an oxcart or two on the way in, chickens by the side of the road, definitely a pair of goats at one point. Like I said, other side of the world.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Some catching up

You're probably wondering what on earth I'm actually doing here in Indonesia, since I haven't posted anything of substance since I got here. No PR (pekerjaan rumah = homework) tonight, so I'll take the opportunity to write a little more about what it's like and what I've done since I got here.

After that first night in the Hotel Santika, when Samantha and I slept through dinner, we had one day of orientation at Universitas Negeri Malang (UM). It started out with a big opening ceremony with traditional dances and a speech by the Rektor (dean?) of the University. He mentioned that we'd all be getting alma mater jackets from UM, and he wasn't kidding – the next day we all got measured by a tailor.

After being talked at for a few hours about classes and such, we were dropped off with our host families. I lucked out with mine – two parents, a 23-year-old daughter names Rani, a pembantu (live-in maid, pretty common for well-off families), hot water in the downstairs bathroom (more on that later), and fast internet. The dad, Pak Arif, speaks pretty decent English, which comes in handy now and again.

I meant to unpack a bit before dinner, but for the second night in a row I fell asleep and when I woke up they'd already eaten. I ate on the couch, spaghetti a la Indonesia. Chatted with Rani's boyfriend for a while – nice guy, very patient with a tired, disoriented American – and passed out around 8.

I set my alarm for 6am, but woke up a little before 5. Turns out that's actually a little on the late side around here – if the calls to prayer at 4am don't get you up, the roosters shortly thereafter will. Bedtime tends to be 9-ish though, so 5am isn't so bad. I usually read or check email til 6, then shower and breakfast – wonderbread, peanut butter, & jelly the first morning; Indonesian food after that – and meet my peer tutor, Yusinta, at 7:30 to walk to school. The walk there twists and turns through a kampung, a little neighborhood with streets too narrow for a car but plenty big for a sepeda motor, the motorbikes everyone around here rides. There's way more of them than cars, and neither they nor the cars give a damn about pedestrians or right of way, which makes crossing the street lots of fun.

8am is class – an hour forty minutes followed by a 20-minute coffee break (istiraha), another 50 minutes of class , 10-minute istiraha, 50 minutes of class, and an hour of lunch at 1pm. After lunch is peer tutor time, which is basically hanging out for an hour or two with the Indonesian students assigned to us. If there's homework we'll do that, otherwise we'll find a shady spot (yes, it's hot. No, there's no AC.) to sit and talk and run vocab, or walk around town. A few times now we've taken an angkot, little blue vans that function like city busses, into the alun-alun (city center) with a few of us to walk around and check out the Pasar Burung (bird market) and the Pasar Bunga (flower market). From there, Yusin usually walks me home, dinner around 6:30, then maybe watch some World Cup (Piala Dunia) til bed. Hopefully now that I'm settled in a bit I'll be able to go out more with friends to explore the city.

The food is pretty fantastic so far. The pembantu is an excellent cook, so after the initial spate of faux-American food I've eaten awfully well. Dinner can be a lot of things, always rice, then some sort of veggie, meat and/or fish, often tofu or tempeh. Tonight they had takeout from a Padang restaurant; I tried beef tendon (exact same texture as the bubbles in bubble tea, but meat flavored) and what I'm pretty sure was lung jerky – not a lot of flavor, but awfully crunchy. I think I'll stick to normal meat from now on. Breakfast is usually last night's dinner reworked, so fried rice, fried chicken (and what fried chicken! Sorry, Hunter, but the South's got nothing on this stuff.), fantastic tempeh, veggies, omelet, etc etc. Turns out I'm a big fan of spicy food for breakfast. Yesterday my host sister and I went for a jalan-jalan around town on her sepeda motor, and had some bakso (meatball soup) at a warung, kind of an outdoor cafe, a restaurant in a tent. As in most of Asia, avocado is a fruit here, so I drank avocado juice with condensed milk and chocolate syrup. Different, but surprisingly good. My only complaint is that I wish there were more fresh fruit. So far I've tried mangosteen (fantastic), snakefruit (less so), guava and tamarind juices (pretty good), and durian in a shake (fruit shouldn't taste like onions), but mostly there's just apples and pears around the house, which, while good, are kind of boring. I'm hoping for more mangosteens and maybe some dragon fruit. Rambutans are out of season. Boo.

Cukup – enough for tonight – more fun stories about the tea plantation this past weekend (climbed a volcano!) and cultural differences and bucket showers and such to follow. Pictures will be sparing because of the less-than-ideal internet situation, but I'll try to get a few up. Selamat malam, dan sampai jumpa! Oh, and go Portugal!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Pagi ini

Nothing like spicy oxtail soup for breakfast when you've got a cold.

Also, how did I get a cold in Indonesia?

Saturday, June 19, 2010


We're going to a tea plantation this weekend. I expect to buy about half a suitcase's worth of souvenirs.

In short: It's fun, it's different, there's definitely some cultural diferences that have made me look like a rude, bumbling idiot, though my language attempts have done that pretty effectively too. But I'm enjoying myself. And yesterday I discovered the hot shower in the house! Well, "shower"...

Anyway, time is short in general, but I'll try to write more soon.

Oh yeah, and my family has a little fish pond in the dining room, with koi. In case you were curious.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Getting There, or Too Many Airplanes

It's about 4:30am Tuesday, Malang time, which means all you on the East Coast are probably just starting to think about your plans for Monday dinner. I'm sitting in bed in the Hotel Kantika, munching on leftover dried fruit and trail mix from the airplane(s) and listening to the call to prayer. Welcome to Indonesia.

Getting here was a bitch, if you'll excuse my saying so. Step 1: Thursday, 6/10, New Haven to DC. 10am train to Grand Central, taxi to JFK, plane ride into Dulles. Felt like a long ride, but I really can't complain – the people coming in from LA and Alaska had it much worse. Checking in, I ran into Meghan and Samantha, two other students on my program. That evening was a welcome meeting at the CLS offices, wandering around the city a bit, and some excellent Greek food for dinner. I slept like a rock until my travel alarm clock went off in my bag around 1am (just in time to catch my flight home from Barcelona back in March!), then after that it was a lost cause. Made for a tired Day 2.

Friday was more orientation, various bureaucrats from the State Department and elsewhere talking at us for about 8 hours, snacks provided. By lunchtime I knew several ways to be an active CLS alum, even more possible career paths for people with language skills and an interest in public service, and almost nothing about what to expect in Malang. Later in the day things got more relevant, but they could easily have cut about two hours off the program and let us nap before dinner (as suggested by the jetlagged Californian sitting next to me). After dinner – excellent Turkish out in Alexandria – I met up with Matt for a beer in the Marriott across the street – which sounds much sketchier than it was. What kind of hotel closes its bar on a Friday night? The one where I was staying, apparently, so we picked the nearest alternative. And $6 for a Sam Adams? What is this, Manhattan? – then to bed around 10.

Step 2: Saturday, 6/12, DC to San Francisco. Got up at 2:15 for a 3am checkout and a 3:30 van to the airport. The Japan group, who had their orientation with us, had a 7:00 flight out, so they shipped us all out to Dulles together. Our 8:20 flight was delayed an hour; luckily our boarding group hadn't gotten on the plane yet when they announced that. Air time: six hours.

Step 3: SF to Tokyo. With the delay at Dulles, our layover in San Francisco was down to an hour, so we boarded pretty soon after making it to the gate. I sat next to Leslie on the plane and ran some Indonesian vocab during taxi & takeoff. Total airtime: a long ten hours, mostly passed watching Alice in Wonderland and napping.

Step 4: Tokyo to Singapore. Tokyo was where things started getting fun, mostly because it was my first time in Asia. First stop in the airport was the bathroom. Turns out Japanese toilets are as crazy as you've heard. That's all I'm saying about that.

Next up was a big bowl of udon noodles at a cafe near the gate. No idea what I paid for them – exchange rate? Anyone? - but they were pretty excellent. Some fellow-travellers decided sushi was in order. Total layover was an hour and a half, then 6 hours in the air to Singapore. Getting really sick of airplanes at this point.

Step 5: Singapore to Jakarta. It was almost midnight local time when we landed in Singapore, and for the first time in almost 24 hours it was dark outside where I was. We'd been hearing rumors of incredible things at the Singapore airport from two guys in the group who'd lived on the island for a while – free wifi! Showers! Video games! - and by now it had turned into the promised land, a magical place where anything was possible. Unlike most utpian visions, this one actually exceeded the hype. Free wifi everywhere, which I hadn't had since leaving New Haven. With 7 hours to kill til our next flight, we started off by visiting the butterfly exhibit. Midnight isn't the best time to see butterflies – they tend to be asleep at that hour – but we caught a few tucked under leaves or hanging from branches. Walking out, we came to a big waiting room with a koi pond and several of those foot-and-calf massaging machines like they sell at Brookstone, so I spent the next half hour or so getting a free massage and checking email. By 1am most of the shops were closing, but the 24-hour food court upstairs was still open, and I'd skipped dinner on the flight, so a bowl of mie siam was in order. After food, showers: for eight Singapore dollars (about $5.75 US), you get a shower in a beautiful little private room (towels included), a toothbrush and toothpaste, a bottle of water, and a snack. Felt much more human after that. We decided to skip the free movie and the cactus garden (were they open at this hour anyway?) and pass the time with Facebook and the World Cup (go Germany!) instead. The next two legs of the trip would be on Garuda Air instead of United, so we had to check in again, which led to minor panic when they asked to see our checked baggage tags (who ever keeps those?), but we found them and got on the plane at 7:20am.

Flying, in Indonesia, is not nearly as commonplace as it is in the US, and it shows. Before takeoff the stewardesses offered us cups of orange or guava juice, something I've never seen before in coach. The legroom was better than on any of the overseas flights, where I really could have used the extra inch or two. Seriously, if I'm 5'5” and I find it cramped, what do tall people do? We even got a meal, which was pretty bad, but with fresh fruit and metal silverware I was impressed anyway. It was a beautiful blue-green morning, and the view taking off over Malaysia was lovely – I'd been lucky enough to nab a window seat. Air time to Jakarta: an hour and a half.

Step 6: Jakarta to Surabaya. Immigration and customs in Jakarta were easy enough, though all the signs announcing 'Death Penalty for Drug Traffickers!” were kind of terrifying – I had practically a whole pharmacy in my luggage between the malaria pills and the travel clinic prescriptions and benadryl to sleep and ibuprofin. Two students in the group had their luggage lost – Shannon's is still in Tokyo as of last report, and Wyatt's “might be in Tokyo too... ?” The Jakarta airport is beautiful, with big sloped ceilings and traditional carvings on the walls, though the food choices in the terminal include KFC, Cold Stone, Starbucks, Haagen Dazs, and both Krispy Kreme and Dunkin Donuts. The layover was supposed to be 2 hours, but the flight was delayed so it ended up at 3. Another Garuda flight to Surabaya, with the same little luxuries, and about an hour later we were there.

Step 7: Surabaya to Malang by bus. Pak Peter, the resident director of the program, met us at the airport. Surabaya was hot and muggy, but the bus was air-conditioned. It's only about 50 miles (?) to Malang from Surabaya, but because of the mud flow, the highway diverts into little local roads and traffic crawls. The mud flow: a few years ago, a company called Lupindo thought it had detected oil outside Surabaya and started drilling, but when the hit it turned out not to be oil but volcanic mud instead. Picture BP in the Gulf but on land, where people used to live – years later, it's still coming up. Halfway there we stopped for lunch at a beautiful restaurant. In Malang, we were dropped at the hotel, with orders to get some rest and meet for dinner at 6:45. I set my alarm for 6:20 and took a nap, but my subconscious must have interfered because at 8pm I woke up, and the alarm hadn't gone off. My roommate, Samantha, was out cold too. At that point though I was happy to skip dinner and just sleep, so I phoned in an apology and went back to bed. And that's why I'm up at 4 in the morning, writing this (though by now it's 6:15, and the roosters are crowing). Today we get an orientation and meet our host families, and tomorrow classes start. Here goes nothing...

Hopefully I'll get to post this soon; there's free internet in the hotel. Pictures (mostly of Singapore) to come as well.

Friday, June 4, 2010

So I started this blog...

The premise: I'm going to Indonesia for the summer, and some people say they want to hear about it. And as I continue to travel to interesting places in the future, I'll write about them here too. I don't know yet quite what the internet situation will be in Indonesia, but I'll try to post every week or so, and put up pictures when I can.

Where I'm going/What I'm doing: I'll be in Malang, East Java from June 14th to August 8th. Malang is here:
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I'm going as part of the Critical Language Scholarship program run by the State Department. (Their spiel is here: Your tax dollars hard at work, buying me a plane ticket to Indonesia. (And thanks too to the Yale Southeast Asian Studies Department for giving me a grant to cover all the travel vaccines. Any undergrads out there, that's your tuition dollars hard at work.) I'll be in language classes for five hours a day, followed by some culture classes (yoga and Javanese cooking, in my case) and peer tutoring. On the side I'll be writing my portfolio papers for school. I'm living with a host family - all I know about them so far is that they're Muslim and they have a pet fish and a 23-year-old daughter named Rani who friended me on facebook. There's a few excursions as part of the program, and I'll be various weekend side trips while I'm there. Apparently we're right near the ferry to Bali. Sweet. I'm not allowed to leave the country during the program, but afterwards I'll try to travel around Southeast Asia a bit, probably to Singapore and Vietnam, maybe a bit of Malaysia too. We'll see.

The disclaimers:
I signed a thing for CLS saying I'd follow some blogging guidelines, so here they are:
"• Acknowledge that your blog and posts are not official Department of State Web sites and the views and information presented are your own, not those of the CLS Program, the Department of State, or American Councils.
• As a participant in an academic exchange program sponsored by the U.S. State-Department, you have full academic and artistic freedom to write, publish, and create, but you are also expected to maintain a standard of conduct that is in keeping with the spirit and intent of the CLS Program, which is to increase mutual understanding between the people of the U.S. and of other countries.
• Any CLS participant who posts inappropriate or offensive material on the Internet in relation to the CLS Program may be subject to revocation or termination of the CLS grant. What is deemed culturally acceptable in the U.S. may not be received well overseas. Describing the challenges of living in a foreign country is fine, but please do not use disparaging language to describe the country you are in and the people you live and work with."

So everything I write is my opinion and not that of the State Department, and I may have to leave out some of the more scandalous bits. Though my parents and their friends are reading this, so I'd probably do that anyway. (Hi Deena!) Not that I'd ever do anything remotely scandalous, of course.

And on that note, back to the packing...