Thursday, July 29, 2010

An Admission

I just ordered a banana-chocolate-cheese crepe at the mall. And it was delicious.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

More Cultural Differences...

Last night we went to Toko Oen, Malang's oldest restaurant from back when the Dutch ran the place, for Kiley's birthday. Cool resto, with rattan chairs and a mixed Dutch/Indonesian menu. My plans for a ham, egg, & cheese sandwich were thwarted when they ran out of ham, but at the bottom of the page was a section for 'Toast Plates - Flying Saucers'. Not entirely sure what that meant, but it sounded interesting. I couldn't decide between chicken, egg, or cheese (chocolate was also an option), so I went for the kombinasi (combination), expecting a plate with three or four pieces of toast with different toppings. Instead I got a single hamburger bun, cooked inside an iron to press the edges shut. Inside was a combination - of chocolate sprinkles and cheese. Not bad, actually, but not quite the dinner I'd been expecting. I ordered a bihun goreng to round it out.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Cool things I did this week

Recognize this photo? (If not, look up to the blog header.) I took that yesterday. This week's mandatory fun was a trip to Bromo-Tengger-Semuru National Park and Mt Bromo, about 2 ½ hours east of Malang. Bromo is actually a small but active volcano inside the crater of a massive ancient volcano, the Tengger Caldera. Next to Bromo (the gaping hole with sulfurous steam coming out in the photos) is Mt. Batok. The area inside the ancient crater is filled with sand and known as Laut Pasir Tengger (the Tengger Sand Sea); aside from Bromo and Batok there are three other volcanoes in the caldera. The tall one in the back is Mt. Semeru, the tallest mountain in East Java and outside the caldera but still in the park.

We left on Friday, but luckily didn't have anything really planned for the day outside of dinner. Our hotel was perched right on the rim of the caldera overlooking the sand sea – hell of a view. The 'observe local Tengger people' (who brought their binoculars!) section of the schedule turned out to mean 'free time, but we can't officially say that', so a few of us hiked out along the ridge for a better view of the mountains inside. It was misty all afternoon, but right at sunset the clouds started to clear and we got a beautiful view of the peaks with orange sky behind them.

Saturday morning we woke up at quarter to three and took jeeps out to Mt. Pananjakan, one of the mountains in the Tengger Massif but outside the caldera, to watch the sun rise over Bromo.Waking up wasn't easy – despite our best efforts to get to bed at 8, the room next to us stayed up late talking, and through the thin bamboo walls we could hear just enough of the conversation for it to be tantalizing but, aside from a few choice bits, not enough to actually know what was being said – though that was plenty to make falling asleep a challenge. Plus they hadn't booked enough rooms for everyone who ended up wanting to come, so we were four to a room with just-larger-than-twin-sized beds, a little on the cramped side if you're not looking to cuddle. (Though I can't complain; apparently the peer tutors were four to a room with only one bed.) When we finally dragged ourselves out of bed it was freezing – okay probably in the forties, but when you're used to 80 and packed for maybe 65, that's pretty cold. Most of us had bought hats from the hawkers the night before – roughly $1 for a hand-knitted hat ain't bad – but my longest pants were capris, and some people (I guess they missed the 'climbing a mountain' part of the schedule) were stuck in flip-flops. The Indonesians had told us it would be cold, but Indonesians think a cool breeze on a summer afternoon is practically Antarctica, so nobody really took them seriously. I had my thick Yale sweatshirt, and luckily had decided to humor my ibu when she suggested I bring a scarf. Between that, some layered t-shirts, and my new hat I was mostly okay, aside from my exposed calves; the Indonesians were bundled up like Eskimos and still shivering.

The view from Mt. Pananjakan was spectacular, though from my vantage point I missed the best part; I stole some photos from facebook from those with better seats. The pic above was taken from an overlook a little down the mountain on our way out. After the sunrise we took the jeep across the sand sea out to Bromo. I wrote before that the roads through East Java to the Bali ferry were the worst I've ever seen; I take that back. From the parking lot it was a short hike partway up the crater, followed by stairs to the top. I started out walking but started getting winded in the thin air – love that high altitude; I got a sunburn too – and opted for a horse ride the rest of the way. At the top you could go right up to the edge of the crater and look in at the steam rising out of it. The locals still harvest sulfur from inside. I recommend not standing downwind.

The other cool thing I did was on Thursday. My class had planned to go out for coffee with Pak Gatut – not everyone had tried the kopi luwak yet – but during our 10am break he mentioned that a relative of his was getting married that afternoon, and would we like to come. It's wedding season in Indonesia, and I'm probably one of the last in my program who hadn't been to one yet (though my host family flew to Jakarta a few weeks ago for the wedding of one of my host dad's 10 younger siblings), and Indonesian weddings, or at least the receptions, are pretty laid-back affairs, and everyone there would probably really enjoy seeing a pack of Americans show up. Plus, as it turned out, Pak Gatut was the uncle (?) of one of the people getting married (I think the word used was 'keponakan', which means non-gender-specific 'child of my sibling'), and an important enough guest to be making a speech, so really he could bring whomever he wanted. The actual ceremony had already taken place that morning – usually it's a small gathering for family only – so what we saw was the reception. Arrive, eat, leave is the general pattern, which is what happened here. Lots of great batik shirts; we stood out a bit in our jeans and t-shirts, though this being Indonesia we weren't the only ones in flip-flops. The bride and groom wore beautiful, ornate traditional Javanese dress, lots of gold and wrapped cloth. There were speeches and singing, and after the family photos someone decided it'd be awesome to take a shot with all the bules. Good to know I'll be part of someone's wedding memories forever.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

So I went to Bali last weekend...

Four days free, so how could I not? A group going to the Gili Islands off of Lombok nearly seduced me away, but in the end gorgeous temples won out over beautiful beaches. (Though the beach in Sanur wasn't half bad.) Airfare was expensive and a hassle – step one: 2-3 hour traffic-choked drive to the Surabaya airport – so we (Kevin, Samantha, and I) decided to go by travel instead. A travel is a tourist shuttle, pretty common in Indonesia, that picks you up at your door, feeds you dinner, and drives you to wherever. It's basically a big van, with room for about ten passengers and seats that recline like in an airplane. Our trip took twelve hours door-to-door each, but the fare was about $40 round trip and we saved a night's hotel stay. I got picked up a little before 6pm on Thursday night. Around 9 we stopped for dinner at a restaurant owned by the tour company, and at 1am, after 6 hours on the bumpiest roads I've ever encountered, we boarded the ferry. The sea was reasonably calm, but the whole ride a guy with a microphone was walking up and down the aisles selling cheap crap to travelers. The three of us were the only bules on the boat – this is not the tourist route. An hour later we landed in Bali, and a little before 6am the travel dropped us off by the beach in Sanur. First stop was coffee – yes, we slept on the travel, but with seats like an airplane you sleep about as well as on an airplane, but an airplane that accelerates and brakes suddenly and makes liberal use of the horn.

(Tangent on Indonesian drivers: They drive on the left, which I don't entirely understand, since it was the Dutch who colonized here, not the British. Seatbelts are entirely optional, and often don't exist. There's probably four motorbikes for every car on the road, some of whom drive more cautiously than others. The default speed for any sort of rented car or travel is as fast as possible – they want to get where they're going and be done with it. The result of this is that they pass anyone in front of them who isn't going as fast as they'd like, which in practice means everyone. To pass, you pull out into the right lane, make sure nothing bigger than you is coming at you, honk to let the car/truck/bike/bus in fron know they're being passed, accelerate as fast as possible until you've passed everyone or oncoming traffic gets too close, then slam on the brakes as you pull back into your lane so as not to hit whoever you didn't manage to pass. Repeat constantly for the duration of the trip, no matter how windy the roads or how choppy the pavement.)

We found a fancy hotel on the beach for breakfast – fruit with yogurt and banana pancakes that were more like crepes – then Kevin took a bus out to Kuta to surf and Samantha and I rented lounge chairs on the beach for the day. I'd hoped to do some scuba diving – Sanur's got a nice reef offshore a bit – but because of the 'gaping open wound' on my leg (Kevin's words, and reasonably accurate – see my previous post about the knalpot) I stuck to sunbathing while Samantha swam. After lunch – pork, for the first time in a month; Bali is predominantly Hindu rather than Muslim – we did a little shopping on the main road and checked into our hotel. Pak Gatut, one of my teachers at CLS, has a former student, Brant, who lives in Sanur with his Balinese wife, Risna, and they had arranged our room for us. $10 each for the night and we even got hot water and AC. That night we had pizza for dinner., and a gin squash for dessert.

Bali feels like a different country from Java – sort of like Italy and France, you can see the commonalities but it's definitely a different culture. A lot of that I think stems from the difference in religion and the fact that Bali is full of tourists, while Malang at least has very few, especially non-Indonesians. There's no five-times-daily call to prayer in Bali, which means nobody wakes up at 4am; the streets are full of stray dogs instead of the cats you see all over Malang; pork is a common dish but there aren't any food carts on the street; almost no women in jilbabs; the whole pace of life is much slower and more relaxed; there's temples every fifteen feet on the street and offerings every five – Bali smells like incense.

Saturday morning we had breakfast at a cafe with discounts for guests at our inn; hashbrowns and bacon have never tasted so good. Scrambled eggs, duck sausage, and toast with butter too. Nice change from nasi goreng and chicken curry. I did a little more shopping while Samantha read by the pool, until we realized that Bali is an hour ahead of Malang and we'd missed our shuttle to Ubud. So we chilled for two hours til the next one at Brant's bar by the beach, drinking watermelon juice (me) and margaritas (Kevin).

We already had a room reserved on the outskirts of town, but stuck in traffic in the center Samantha saw a place that looked nice and called from the car. They had a triple available at what worked out to about $7 each per night, though in exchange for the great location we got a cold-water shower. The main street in Ubud, Monkey Forest Road, is lined with souvenir shops and consequently mobbed with tourists, at least on the weekend, but we turned onto a side street and found dinner for a third the price of the restos on the main road. Afterwards we went to a legong performance – Balinese traditional dance. Pretty incredible. Plenty of pictures already posted, videos to come once I get reasonably fast internet.

Sunday we took a tour of the temples in the area – Goa Gaja, the elephant caves; Pejeng; Gunung Kawi; Tampak Siring, the holy springs; Kintamani; lunch overlooking Gunung Batur and Lake Batur; and a coffee plantation, because why not. It was the three of us, a Spanish couple, a Frenchman, and a driver in a van driving site to site, and honestly all the temples were amazing; I took more pictures than any reasonable person should. At Goa Gaja we hiked into the jungle to see a little temple tucked into a hillside; at Gunung Kawi I managed to kick my burn going down the steps down the mountain and made it bleed, then spent the rest of that visit limping around; and at Tampak Siring I dipped my leg into a special pool devoted to health and I swear it didn't hurt the rest of the day, for the first time in a week. The coffee plantation had free tastings of most of their products, and for Rp 30,000 you could get a small cup of kopi luwak. Kopi luwak (civet coffee) is made from beans that have already passed through the digestive system of a luwak, a little animal that looks like a cross between a cat and a ferret and apparently likes eating coffee berries. Apparently the digestive enzymes in the luwak's stomach alter the bean's chemistry and improve the flavor; in the US it can go for $100 or more per pound. Of course I had to try it. Turns out I still don't like coffee, not even really expensive coffee, but Samantha and Kevin were happy to finish the cup for me.

We were supposed to get back to Ubud around 3pm, but with all the souvenir shopping we didn't get back til around six. All the sites had lines of souvenir stalls, most with the same crap but a few, especially at Gunung Kawi, with some beautiful crafts – coconuts carved into lamps, carved ox bones and skulls, wooden masks and batik sarongs. I bought a few gifts, took pictures of a few especially nice bone carvings. I got some pretty good deals – they don't expect a bule who knows how to bargain, much less one who can bargain in Indonesian. At each site the sellers got more insistent, until by the end they were wrapping scarves around our waists as we tried to cross the street and holding handfuls of postcards through the car windows.

That night we went to see a kacek performance, described in the tourist office as a traditional 'fire and trance dance'. Unlike legong, which is accompanied by a gamelan orchestra, in kacek a group of men sit around a fire and sing a capella while the dancers dance around and through them. The last bit had a guy on a hobby horse, ostensibly in a trance, dancing around and occasionally over a bonfire of coconut husks. I could barely watch. Afterwards we stopped for dinner at an Indian place, where Kevin had his first-ever samosa, then to bed.

Monday morning, after banana pancakes at the hotel, Kevin went back to Kuta to surf again and Samantha and I headed off on our own. I poked around the Ubud Palace and a few local temples, looked in a few souvenir shops, then went to the monkey forest, which is exactly what it sounds like – a patch of forest with some lovely temples and a whole lot of monkeys. The monkeys are small-ish and completely uninterested in humans, though completely unafraid as well, unless of course you happen to have food – bananas sell for Rp 20,000 a bunch at the entrance. Mostly they sit on or near the path and do monkey-ish things – fight, groom, swing on vines, eat yams, play with the fountains. One monkey held her baby by the tail as he tried to run off. The one temple I made it to was where locals get cremated after they die – most gruesome stone carvings I've seen yet. Walking back to town I had been thinking about getting a massage, which go for cheap here, but instead I ended up in a Doktor Ikan shop – for Rp 55,000 you sit on a bench for half an hour with your feet in a tank of water while little inch-long fish nibble at your dead skin. It's a strange sensation, kind of tingly, and an even stranger sight to see hundreds of tiny fish swarm your legs, but my feet came out nice and soft, which after a month of walking around Malang in sandals was a nice change. Lunch was babi guling, spit-roasted pig stuffed with spices and served with rice and veggies. The warung was packed but the food was cheap and delicious – those Javanese are really missing out.

At two we caught the shuttle back to Sanur, where the travel was supposed to pick us up at 5:30. To kill the time til then Samantha and I decided to get massages and body scrubs while Kevin drank beers at Brant's bar. The massage turned out to be not the best I've ever had – especially when she forgot about my burn and squeezed it, hard, through the sheet – but the body scrub was nice, especially since my Sempu sunburn was peeling, and the whole hour and a half cost about ten bucks each.

At 5:30 we were waiting outside Restaurant Piccadilly for the travel to come pick us up. At 6:00 they hadn't come yet, so I called the company, who said they were stuck in traffic. At 6:15 we went into the restaurant, where a British guy Kevin had met at the bar bought us all beers and we ordered french fries and garlic bread. At 7pm the travel finally came, and at eight it broke down. An hour later we were on our way again, and thanks to our driver, who drove like a crazy person to get us there on time, I got dropped off at home a little before 6am. Class started at eight. Needless to say, I slept well that night.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Bali hai

I'm in Bali, Sanur for now and heading to Ubud this afternoon. At the moment I'm sitting at the Seafarers Club bar drinking watermelon lime juice and enjoying the sunshine. Doesn't get a whole lot better than this.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

This Wouldn't Have Happened in Jogya...

Saturday night may have been one of the worst nights of my life. It's certainly putting up a strong showing in the non-illness-related category. Damn Indonesians and their endless karaoke...

This weekend was one of our free weekends. I'd originally been planning to go to Jogyakarta to see Borobudor, but since I've got a 12-hour drive to Bali coming up next weekend I decided to go for somewhere closer instead. Mas Jake was planning a trip to Pulau Sempu, an island off the south coast of Java, about 2 ½ hours from Malang. The ocean around here is too dangerous to swim in, but Sempu has a protected lagoon that fills up with ocean water every day. The plan was to drive to the coast to Sendang Biru, then hire a boat to take us to Sempu. From the boat drop it's about an hour and a half hike to the lagoon. We'd camp overnight, and in the morning the tide would be up and we could swim and relax for a few hours before hiking back across the island and heading home. Jake warned us that the first 14 hours would be a pain – hiking, camping, no water in the lagoon til morning – but that it would be worth it. Turns out he was right on both counts, though 'a pain' was the understatement of the century.

First off, the drive there was gorgeous. All narrow, twisting roads through the mountains, with some incredible views out over the forests and papaya plantations. Poor Mbak Rizki got carsick. How is it that Indonesians manage to throw up silently? I don't understand, but they do.

We arrived at Sendang Biru around 4pm Saturday afternoon, but according to the officials there it was already too late to cross over to the island. They were right – it gets dark before 6pm here, and there's no way we would have made it to the beach and set up camp by then. The island is a nature reserve, with tigers (maybe), cobras (definitely), and monkeys (I got pictures), all of which are more active at night, and in any case hiking through the jungle at night would have been disastrous. So instead we set up our two rented tents on the beach at Sendang Biru on the mainland. Mas Jake had done the same trip last summer and been the only one there; this time, thanks to a national holiday, it was mobbed. The beach was overrun with families, their cars, their trash, and the ice cream carts catering to them. And the water was full of brightly painted wooden boats, as far as I could tell mostly fishermen who also ferried people across to the island. I took plenty of pictures.

We put on some noodles for dinner, and one of the tutors (who had brought some friends along) pulled out a few bottles of Bintang, Indonesian beer. I had about half a cupful, the first drink I'd had since I got here a month ago. That's about when the generator in the back of the truck about 30 feet from our tent clanked to life, in order to power the giant sound system in another tent a little farther down. I don't know what the occasion was, but the result was karaoke blasting from huge speakers until around one in the morning. We tried to get some sleep, but with the music blaring, the generator chugging along, thin rubber mats as mattresses, and horrible stuffy heat inside the tent, nobody was very successful. Meghan, Fatima and I were in one tent, Jake and Kyle in the other, and most of the eight Indonesians were braving the bugs to sleep outside in the cool. Around 1am I stumbled out of the tent, threw up in the grass (thanks, Bintang), and decided they had the right idea – my deet would keep off the worst of the mosquitoes, and at least I'd be able to breathe.

Which turned out to be true, until it started raining and we all had to move back inside the tent.

Around 5am we all dragged ourselves out of bed for breakfast and a hearty round of sharing the ways we'd all fantasized about shutting down the damn karaoke. At 14 hours after arrival, Mas Jake's estimate was turning out to be pretty accurate. We packed up the tents and got ready to head over. Access to the island is restricted because of its status as a preserve, educational visitors only, and you need an official letter from the government to be there legally. To get the letter you have to go to the office and 'lobi-lobi' – literally 'lobby' for it, but doubtless some cash changes hands as well. TII, after all. We sent one of the Indonesians over to lobby for us – the price goes way up when a pile of bules walk into the office. Armed with our letter, we got a boat to drop us off around 7am and started into the jungle.

I've never seen so much mud in my life. After the rains the day before, the whole path had melted into one big slick mudpuddle. The consistence reminded me of the clay you use in middle-school art class, then fire into crappy vases. About three minutes in I took a wrong step and ended up ankle-deep, and from there on it only got messier. We were holding on to trees and vines with every step just in order to stay upright, literally pulling ourselves up slopes to drier paths, slipping and sliding and frequently ending up on our rears anyway. A few of the peer tutors made the hike barefoot, and it was clear that wasn't an unusual way to travel – all along the trail were abandoned sandals, mostly broken and half-buried in mud. It took about an hour and a half of slogging to make it to the beach, which, as promised, was gorgeous. The lagoon was a protected crater, surrounded by a high natural rock wall with a hole in it that the seawater came in through. We were able to climb up in one spot and look down at the South Java Sea below us. Even though we were probably 40 feet above the water level, the force of the surf against the rocks was enough to send spray up above our heads. It's clear why the ocean there has a reputation for being deadly – if the Queen isn't willing, the saying goes, you'll be smashed against the rocks and that's that.

But we had ourselves a nice little cove, and after the hike we were happy to jump in. The water was great, cool and calm and clear. There were a fair number of people there at that point, most of whom had probably never seen a bule in a two-piece bathing suit before, but the attitude was more along the lines of a celebrity sighting or maybe a glimpse of a yeti than anything else – people seemed intrigued rather than offended. I'm sure Meghan and Fatima and I ended up in quite a few semi-surreptitious photos. (Related story – On his trip, Wyatt was asked by his driver whether people in America really wore bikinis, or if it was just celebrities on tv. Yes, Pak, we really do.)

We had about four hours at the beach, swimming, napping, reading, and getting thoroughly sunburned. By lunchtime the beach had emptied out, and some monkeys came down from the forest to scavenge from all the trash left around. There's a nascent conservation movement around, but really very little cultural awareness of the problems with littering, and all along the path, on the beach and in the water were empty water bottles, noodle packages, and food scraps. Ew.

At 1pm we left to trek back across the island to go home. I think I was a little dehydrated despite all the water I'd downed on the beach, and about 15 minutes in I had to stop and sit down for a bit. But we made it through, with frequent water breaks. The path had dried significantly in the few hours since we came, so the going was easier, but it was still awfully slippery. At one point I lost my footing on a slope and cut myself up good on a sharp rock on the way down, shin and elbow. Second blood of the trip; Mas Thoriq stepped on something sharp and sliced his foot open on the way in. When we reached the inlet where we started the sea had already receded easily 50 meters with the low tide, and we had to wade out to the boat when it arrived. A quick shower later (1500 Rp at the bathrooms) and we were back in the car heading home, dead tired, sore, filthy, burned, and bleeding. That super-antibiotic ointment from the travel clinic is coming in handy now, and I'll likely have a nice scar – oleh-oleh dari Pulau Sempu. But - though I say this fully aloed-up and dosed with aspirin - you're right, Jake: it was totally worth it.

Postscript: The Jogya group drank cobra blood. So I guess I did miss out on that.

Lessons Learned

Things I found out yesterday: The tailpipe ('knalpot') of a motorbike gets extraordinarily hot, even after s short ride home. Do not under any circumstances try to dismount said motorbike on the side with the tailpipe, especially if you've got exposed skin on your calf. Mas Toriq's sepeda motor: 1, me: 0. Ow.

Cultural Differences #5: The Tropical Clime

There is no deodorant in Indonesia. Now I understand the twice-daily showers.

Some More Light Reading

My friend Judith is keeping a blog too. She takes some pretty sweet pictures.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


This is the post where I complain. Overall this is a good program, and I'm having a good time for sure, but there are things about it that drive me a little nuts, some cultural, some administrative, some bureaucratic and handed down from Washington.

One, I have to say I completely disagree wit the teaching philosophy. This is a CLS thing, orders from DC. The idea is to use a 'communicative teaching style' (to use Pak Peter's favorite phrase), which, as he explains it, means that all the lessons have to do with communicating in a real-life situation, no grammar explanations, no drills, no vocab lists, no translation. Use of dictionaries are discouraged, as is writing down vocab as it comes up in class. No English at all, which means new words have to be explained by charades and explanation in Indonesian. Rather than explain what, for example, the -kan suffix means and how to use it, we're supposed to internalize it from hearing it in conversation and from being corrected when we speak – no conscious learning, since that's easily forgotten later; this should all be subconscious learning, absorbing the language by hearing it around us.

Which is great, except that dictionaries and translation exercises and grammar explanations are useful. The whole subconscious learning thing is great when you're five; we all learned our first languages that way, and look how well it worked. But here we're a bunch of 20-somethings, the critical period is long past, that part of the brain is shut down, and if I don't consciously learn a word and hang it on some well-marked mental hook, I'm not going to learn it at all. Correct me for misusing -kan in a sentence and I'll know how it works in that sentence; tell me the rule and I can apply it more broadly. And I spent a solid few days in the body parts unit thinking that gigi 'teeth' meant 'smile' – charades are great, but sometimes you've really gotta look it up.

Luckily a lot of those instructions are pretty well ignored in my little Beginner 2 class, since it's almost exclusively taught by peer tutors rather than higher-ups. The three of us have notebooks out and dictionaries at the ready at all times, and we even get grammar in class if we request it. Plus, I'm a linguist, if I want the answer to an Indonesian grammar question I know where to find it (and thank goodness for Google books making my favorite source for that available). The real problem is in the Beginner 1 class, everyone who came in knowing nothing about the language and would really like to know how things work. That and having to listen to Pak Peter every week at our group meeting explain that no, we can't do X thing the students requested, because it's not communicative, and this is a communicative program. What does he think we're doing the other 19 hours a day when we're not in class? I'll give you a hint: we're communicating, mostly with Indonesians, in Indonesian. A little more explicit explanation in class really wouldn't hurt us. The one concession (and don't tell the State Department!) is that we now have an hour of grammar class on Tuesday afternoons after lunch, where English can be used for explanation. We can't take class time for grammar, (except when my class does anyway) but an hour after class can be arranged. On the one hand it's really helpful; on the other hand we're completely overscheduled as is, and I'd love to have the free time to explore Malang or just decompress.

Along with this very circumscribed teaching method comes precise instructions about how we're supposed to learn. Don't write things down! Don't memorize vocab! As Judith pointed out, those of us who got into the program are here because we're successful students already, and we got where we are because we know what works for us in terms of learning styles and what doesn't. Personally, I've been a full-time student for 17 years and this is the fourth foreign language I've studied seriously; I think by now I know what I'm doing. And yes, I will write down those words, thanks.

Problem #2 is that we're so overbooked in this program that there's very little time to get to see Malang and its surroundings. Typical weekday: wake up around 6, get ready for school, class for 5 hours, lunch at school, group meeting/grammar hour/culture class, home for dinner, two or three hours to check email, do homework, interact with my host family, bed. Fridays we have excursions; same most Saturdays and Sundays. Last week's schedule included a trip to Mt Kawi Thursday after class (home at 1am), class Friday followed by the 4th of July party at Pak Peter's that night, field trip to a village Saturday, and a planned excursion to the morning market on Sunday which thank goodness they cancelled – the thought of a group of 17 bules plus tutors and administrators traipsing through the narrow aisles of the market is just appalling. I often work longer hours at Yale, but then it's maybe 3 hours of class followed by me getting done what needs to get done, not constantly having things scheduled for me. I wish I had more time to go to cafes and hang out, to see the military museum, to maybe go with my host family to the apple orchards outside town. This is a communicative program; so give me a chance to go out and communicate! I've decided to quit yoga class, which means now I at least have my Thursday afternoons free. This week I went with a little group to the traditional market and bought some batik, then got ice cream. It was fantastic.

The last and most aggravating problem is mostly cultural, I think. I think it's fair to say I'm a pretty independent-minded person – I like doing things my way, by myself. I knew coming in that, living with a host family, I wouldn't get quite the me time I'm used to. But the degree of hand-holding and fussing here is pretty intense. It was two weeks before I was able to walk to school by myself, and even now if they know in advance it's just me I'll get driven in by my host sister. In the market I stood outside a store to send a text while the others went in; one of the tutors immediately came out to stand beside me, saying 'tidak sendiri!' - don't be alone! When I said I liked some of the batik on this rack, three tutors started looking through it for me I can't see it if you're all standing here too...), and when I wanted to buy a shirt, they insisted on doing the bargaining for me. Even walking through the department store on the floor above there was constantly an Indonesian hand on my arm, lest I get lost. I've yet to go to the mall next to campus alone, or anywhere in town. My host family is in Jakarta for a wedding this weekend, but Rani's boyfriend is staying here so I'm not by myself, which actually makes for three of us in the house, since the pembantu is here too. Yesterday, climbing up a hillside from a waterfall, it got a little slippery, and the guide behind me constantly had his hand on my arm making sure I wasn't going to slip, and and when we'd stop to catch our breath he'd start brushing the mud of my back from the one spill I did take (nothing serious, just a little bruise on my bum). I appreciate you wanting to help, but not necessary, really. I feel like a cranky five-year-old – no I wanna do it myself! But I do. Even at school, if I sit off to the side at lunch to get a moment to myself I immediately have five people asking if I'm okay and making small talk. If I'm taking a moment on a field trip, the same thing happens – go interview that person! Try pulling these yams! Listen to my explanation of the significance of these rice fields! Can't a girl catch her breath around here in peace?

The loss of autonomy extends to other things too. I miss deciding what and when to eat – I might be in the mood for just a little toast or fruit for breakfast, but when I get down there's already a whole spread out on the table. It's easy enough just to take a small portion of that (and politely decline when I'm urged to take more), but often they make a special plate of food for me, separate from what everybody else is having, and that's much harder to just eat a bit of. If dinner's a bit late and I'm working in my room, someone will bring up a plate of something as a snack, and then it's a question of balancing wanting to eat what they've brought me but also not wanting to be full before dinner even starts, since they've probably made something special for me there too. It'll be nice to get back to my own quiet, empty apartment, and my own kitchen... Again, we're a group of ambitious, adventurous, self-sufficient students – they kept telling us as much in orientation – but here we don't get much chance to be any of those things. The long weekend in Bali will be nice, away from it all. Don't tell me host family I've got a day all alone in Ubud.

Anyway, rant over. I'm off to Pulau Sempu to go camping in the jungle and swim in a lagoon and hopefully not get eaten by snakes & scorpions. Can't wait :-)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Around the World in (Roughly) 80 Days

I finally bought my ticket home to the States for when this trip is over, which was one of the most aggravating ticket purchases I've ever made. I've already got a ticket home through CLS, but that gets me in to New Haven a solid three weeks before my classes start, and what fun is that? I had wanted to just change the date of that ticket, and when I called the airline they were happy to help, except - oops! - because of the group ticket I have to travel the exact same series of flights in the exact same fare class, and sorry, that's not available any time in August. Nope, not possible to pay more to change to a different itinerary or a different fare class. Maybe contact your travel agent? Whose number I'm not supposed to have and who never answers the phone when I do get it. Chris and Kevin, who have to be back a few days early, did get in touch with her, and the change option she gave them was pricier than just buying a new ticket, so that's what they did, and subsequently so did I.

Getting the new ticket wasn't straightforward either. First, the internet is super-slow this week (apparently it's the week when everyone registers online for high school, so national servers are a little overwhelmed), so searching for flights takes ages. Second, Air China lies. So does Qatar Airlines. This was my life last night, on repeat for roughly an hour: says there's a cheap fare on Air China! Go to their website. Actually, it's $3000. Nevermind. Reload kayak page. It doesn't exist after all. Reload again. There's a cheap fair on Qatar Air! Go to their website. Actually, it's $1600. There's that Air China one again! Act fast, only 4 tickets left at this price! Click. Sorry, due to changes in availability, this fare no longer exists. Reload. Lather, rinse, repeat ad infinitum on Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity, et al. Give up. Bang head against wall. Go to bed.

This morning, with the internet behaving pretty well at quarter to six, I ignored the continued siren songs of China and Qatar and managed to nab a lone Emirates Air ticket that hadn't existed before. Paid about $100 more than I'd thought it would be (okay, about $1000 more, when you count the fact that I shouldn't have to have bought a ticket in the first place, stupid airlines), but getting to spend those extra two weeks in SE Asia is worth it, and frankly at this point I'm thrilled just to get the damn thing settled. The plan as of now is to visit a friend in Singapore for a few days, then hop a train up through Malaysia to Bangkok and see some of Thailand before flying home. (Turns out you have to have a visa in advance to visit Vietnam, and schlepping out to Jakarta to get one ain't in the cards.) And the cool part, aside from getting to fly Emirates Air, is that instead of going back east the way I came, over the pacific and the US, this time I'm flying west to Sri Lanka, Dubai, then over Europe and the Atlantic to JFK, which means I'll have circumnavigated the globe. From leaving JFK in June to arriving there in August, if I've counted right, will be 77 days. Close enough :-)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Things Indonesians Do To Fruit

The Good: Pisang Keju
Fried bananas, topped with cheese (which here almost exclusively means shredded Kraft processed cheddar), often with chocolate syrup or sprinkles. Sounds disgusting, actually pretty enjoyable, at least until they add the chocolate. I'm still not sure I'm okay with that part.

The Bad: Chopped apples, pears, and cucumbers, topped with Thousand Island dressing. Maybe, if I liked Thousand Island...

The Ugly: Mixed tropical fruit salad, doused in mayo and topped with shredded fake cheese. Gag me with a spoon.

And while we're on the topic, yes, they put shredded cheese on all sorts of strange things here. Donuts. Cake. Brownies. It seems to show up on a lot of desserts, actually. I mean, I understand cheesecake, even chocolate cheesecake, but American cheese on brownies? Really? Chocolate sprinkles are the same way. Shredded cheese and chocolate sprinkles on toast for breakfast might be the quintessential Indonesian junk food. Gotta say, not my style. Though minus the sprinkles, it makes for a pretty decent grilled cheese.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Fourth of July, or, My Host Family Thinks I'm Crazy

I've discovered why Indonesians like to sing so much at parties (and, by extension, all the time): They don't drink. I can't actually take credit for the observation, but it's totally true – when you have a party without any alcohol at all, not even a beer or two with the snacks, you have to plan things like kripik-eating contests and singalongs or else it gets quiet fast. It's almost shockingly wholesome, like a 9-year-old's birthday party without the hired clowns. Such was our Fourth of July party at Pak Peter's house on Friday. Eating, chatting, silly party games, and lots of Indonesians exhorting the reluctantly sober Americans to Menyanyi! Menyanyi! Sing! (Seriously, what kind of 4th of July is it without so much as a Corona to wash down the hot dogs? Downright unmerican, if you ask me.) And hot dogs there were, and brats, and salsa, watermelon, and even a steak, all alongside grilled tempeh and a whole catered spread of Indonesian food. They told us to bring food, which is where all the non-tempeh stuff came from, and Pak Peter rented a grill, which turned out to be not much larger than the steak we were trying to cook on it.

At this point we're all getting desperate for food not deep-fried and loaded with sugar – more on the food later, but long story short it's all delicious but fried and sweet as Halloween – so I decided to make tzatziki. I went to Matos, the mall near school, to the supermarket on the bottom floor, where miraculously I found plain yogurt and mint and feta cheese. Okay, so the “plain” yogurt was still kind of sweet, and the “fetah” tasted like a cross between real feta and American, but they're really not dairy people around here. Friday afternoon I went home to cook, and my host family crowded around to see what on earth the crazy American was going to do with cucumber, garlic, yogurt, cheese, and mint. What started out as interest slowly turned to confusion, then horror as they realized that no, I wasn't adding sugar, or oil, or mayonnaise. “Tidak pakai susu?” Nope, no milk. “Betul, pakai cuka?” Yup, I really am adding vinegar. My host sister, Rani, was the only one brave enough to try it: “Asam sekali!” – Sour! My host mom took a look: “Seperti maionas”- like mayo. Well, sort of. It was a big hit with the Americans at the party – fresh! Not sweet! Not oily! The Indonesians stayed away.

The coda to this story is that last night we had a little party for my ibu's birthday, with a bunch of my American friends invited. Rani took the leftover mint & feta and made her own version of tzatziki – with mayo and mustard instead of yogurt. Almost, sist, almost.

Cultural Differences #4: Soccer on Stilts

Apparently this actually happens here.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Cultural Differences #3: Menyanyi!

Indonesians love to sing - karoake is a national obsession. At every group event, somebody's always busting out some song or another, and they're perplexed as to why the Americans are hesitant to join in. (I for one need a couple of stiff drinks before I'm game for that, and, well, not in this country you don't.) Case in point: my host dad, who (I think?) is semi-retired, spends his afternoons in the special music/karaoke room in the house (yup, they've got a karaoke room) singing his heart out to easy-listening versions of classic American pop. Last Thursday when I was home sick with Gajah Mada it was Sinatra (My Way, which I'm told can get you killed in the Philippines), Billy Joel (Don't Go Changin'), Burt Bacharach, Clapton. This morning at around 9:30 (late excursion last night; no class till 11) he started in with 'Can You Feel The Love Tonight' from The Lion King. We'll see where it goes from here.

On a somewhat related note, on the bus home from Mt Kawi last night, they played a techno dance mix of the Titanic theme (which I haven't heard in any form for maybe 10 years). That exists?!?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The things you learn...

In Indonesia, you never hand people money with your left hand (for reasons having to do with the traditional bathroom setup). So naturally, I always give people money with my left hand, then realize afterwards what I've just done. Turns out I have a dominant hand for money handling. Who knew?

TII: This Is Indonesia

In Indonesia, the mosquitoes laugh in the face of deet. I've got the bites to prove it, though hopefully not also dengue.

ETA: Okay, maybe dengue. Certainly feels that way right now. Ugh.