Sunday, August 29, 2010

The "Bule" Effect

As Ibu Sitha and I pulled away from the crowded streets near Sarinah, Sitha rolled up the car windows:

"It's not a fear's because of the you factor; the bule factor."

Sitha and I had a good laugh at this, but at nearly 5'10" with blonde hair and blues's a little hard to blend in. Sometimes this is good. It's a particular draw to children. Sitha and I were stopped in a courtyard by two junior high aged kids. They asked Sitha if they could interview me in English about my experience in Indonesia. For the record, they did a great job. :) Later, while Sitha and I ate dinner, two toddlers lingered at our table for a bit to stare until mom ushered them away. I'm also fairly certain that the stifled laughs coming from three teenage girls squished in the elevator beside me were not because of some outrageously funny joke they'd just heard.

On the other hand, there are the negative aspects of being a giant, iconic American in Indonesia. First and foremost are the "bule prices." A painting that was 100,000 Rupiah (roughly $10 USD) will suddenly be $200 USD when a bule comes in view. Travel is also an issue. Taxis here are not expensive 4 or 5 dollars, but there are cheaper ways to travel. Particularly, one can hop on the back of an ojek (motorbike taxi) and get to the destination much quicker because they can weave in and out of Indonesia's nightmarish traffic. However, without the language skills to negotiate a good price, I'm stuck hailing my bluebird taxi every time. Sigh. We're also a magnet for beggars, and sadly, they are in abundance in Jakarta. Just sitting in traffic, young, barefoot girls with babies fastened to their bodies by a fabric sling will walk between the cars looking for money. They will press their foreheads up against the window of your car until you either give then some change or ignore them long enough.

But enough of that depressing news...

Yesterday was wonderful. The joy-filled Ibu Sitha (of the fabled "bule effect" above) and I were connected through a mutual friend and ELF (Thanks, Michael!). Sitha is also an English teacher in Jakarta and is frequently tasked with teacher trainings throughout the 30-some provinces of Indonesia. To me, she is an invaluable source of teaching advice, a well-versed guide to the city, and a fast friend. She picked me up from Alila in the afternoon, and we spent the rest of the day romping around the city.

The only "Flying Wayang"
First stop: The Wayang Museum. Wayang is a traditional art form in Indonesia. They are puppets that play out the stories of either ancient Indian folklore or more modern tales of Indonesia's battle for independence from the Dutch. These pain-painstakingly crafted puppets dance, fight, and love to the music of the gamelan - an orchestra of chimes, bells, and gongs. Watch this video to experience both the Wayang and the accompanying gamelan. As we walked from exhibit to exhibit, Sitha explained each character and their role in the stories. I'm going to look for English versions of the tales at first chance!
Finally, someone taller than me. I think that snake shirt is really going to turn people off, though.
Wayang Puppets, each hand-carved

  The Wayang Museum was located in the middle of the old city center of Jakarta. Old meaning when the Dutch were in control. All of the buildings in this area of town were built by the Dutch: white buildings, pillars, and rows of shuttered windows. There are multiple museums housed in these relics, so I can't wait to return to explore some more.

Next stop: Sarinah. Sarinah is another shopping center, but what's unique is that it has two entire floors devoted to batik. After expressing my love of this Indonesian treasure, Sitha suggested we go explore. Batik is fabric with either stamped or hand-painted designs. The motifs and colors are often very particular to a region or province. Learning about each pattern and the history behind it has become a new goal for my time here in Indonesia. There are even a few textile/batik museums in Java that will surely make it on my to do list. Pictures to come.

We rounded off the evening with dinner at Bakmi GM and some gelato at a nearby Italian restaurant. I had very tasty fried noodles and am happy to report that my stomach is much better now.

I'm so spoiled by the kind hearts of my new friends here in Indonesia...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Day 6

I LOVE SATE AYAM! Yes, I will shout it, thankyouverymuch. Sate Ayam is chicken kabob covered in peanut sauce, and it is fantastic. I was beginning to get worried that I wouldn't find any Indonesian cuisine appealing and would live solely on Pringles and fruit juice when last night in the middle of a mall food court, God smiled down at me. Many thanks to Nalini and her friend ( :( I'm ashamed I can't remember her name now) who introduced me to this delicious dish. I now have renewed confidence in acclimating to the food.

Beyond this breakthrough, there have been overwhelmingly positive moments in my first few "independent" (I use this term very loosely) days. I have ventured out from my hotel to take walks in search of food and just to explore. The first walk successfully led to a convenient store - where said Pringles and fruit juice were purchased. Here is where I had my first encounter with durian. There is was, in whole fruit form and in individualized "pod" packages. The entire store smelled of it. I was going to take my time and buy some adventurous food, but I grabbed the Pringles as my eyes began to water and headed for the checkout. I thought after my first experience with durian, perhaps we could still be friends, but no, durian, I will not be your friend. And, Nana, there is a restriction against bringing durian into the hotel :). My second outing, was just that, an outing. It did, however, result in my first "Hey Mister!" call - a common call from Indonesians with limited English to any bule.

I'm so grateful for my colleagues at Sebasa. They have gone out of there way to help me settle in here. Yesterday, I met with Ibu S'oegma, Ibu Ani, Ibu Vera, and Ibu Shantie. On top of helping me get immigration paper work filled out, they took me to Ancor...a beach and, believe it or not, Seaworld. Seaworld was a much smaller version of its American counterparts, but it was still great fun. I saw fish from the Amazon river; got to pet some stingrays, sharks, and starfish; and experienced fish therapy. This is a new concept to me, but apparently it's very popular in Asia. After doing a double take..."fish what?", I agreed and was led to a small room where I was told to take off my shoes and wash my feet. There were four square pools in the middle of the room. Each was just deep enough to dangle your legs in. And, dangle we did. Ibu S'oegma and I dipped our feet into the water and stiffled giggles as dozens of tiny (one or two inches) swarmed our feet and legs. According to our wonderful guide, the fish eat the dead skin off your legs. So, there we sat with tiny fish nibbling at our toes (...we're all alone, more or less...Red Dwarf anyone? No?... Fine.). I've included some pictures so you don't think I'm making this up.

Meet Ibu S'oegma, my counterpart and lifeline for the next 10 months. The fish liked her more. Jealous.

 Today, I'm off to do more apartment hunting. I'm sure there will be a whole other blog devoted to this experience, so you'll hear from me soon. :)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Glass Box

Day four. For four days, my life has been shielded/separated from Indonesia by a pane of glass. I view the city from my hotel room, watch the traffic jams from the windows in our conference rooms, even observe the people of Indonesia through the bus window as they weave skillfully around our bus with chickens dangling from their motorbikes (sorry there was no picture to accompany this). For four days we have been escorted from place to place by friendly, English-speaking guides, and we had the constant companionship of nine other ELFs to keep us sane. Tomorrow, the glass will be shattered, and we'll be pushed toward our new jobs, relationships, and daily living in Indonesia. This. Is. Huge.

I am excited, nervous, overwhelmed, thankful, tired, and scattered. I did not bring enough comfort food (hint hint to ya'll who will be sending care packages...send gummy/sour candy. Also, Little Debbie snacks ;). Being in a room full of nine other English professionals and forty-plus Fulbrighters has been both inspirational and intimidating. They have so many wonderful ideas for their time here, and each time I hear one, my goal list expands. Yesterday, I met four young fullbrighters who will be living near me in West Java and working in high schools. I'm looking forward to working with them and visiting their sites. As we mingled with the 40+ other fulbrighters and inquired about their sites, it became very plain to me how much I don't know about even the geography of this gigantic country (Oh American maps, how you have lied to me). Geography, language, religion, history, culture...if I get a handle on even a small percentage of this in the span of ten months, I will count myself lucky.

On a more positive point: Today I finally made contact with my job placement: Sebasa - the Police Language School in Jakarta. I met my counterpart Ibu Soegma - a super kind woman who is tasked with helping my settle in. As a special (read: totally unexpected) bonus, I also got to meet the Police Commissioner and head of Sebasa, Pak Usman and my ultimate boss, Ed, a man who works with the US Department of Justice. There are many stakeholders in my position at Sebasa. I just hope not to disappoint!

I'm happy to report my feelings here. I wrote in one of my application essays that I wanted this experience so I could better empathize with my students who find themselves surviving in a new world. I want to record my own experiences so I never forget how it felt to be in their shoes. Tomorrow I step out of my glass box and into those shoes.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

First Impressions

We made it! I'm now blogging from our luxurious hotel (Alila) in the center of Jakarta (not joking about the luxurious part). We got in early Saturday morning after an uneventful plane trip from Singapore. We were given the remainder of the day off to rest up and stave of jetlag. So, naturally, a group of us decided to go hike around the city in 90+ degree weather. The trip eventually ended anti-climatically as we found our destination - a monument/museum - to be closed upon arrival; however, the short journey gave us a...unique first impression of the Big Durian.

This pic was taken from my hotel room window. Yes, that's our pool. Mmmm. And that is central Jakarta below.

Do you remember the atari game "frogger"? Yeah, crossing the street in Jakarta is kinda like that. There are lines on the road and lights/signs on poles, but they are more like guidelines...that everyone chooses to ignore. You have cars, buses, odd little three-wheeled taxi things, and motorbikes...tons and tons of motorbikes usually with bundles, boxes, or people precariously strapped to the back weaving around each other at a good clip. So, the preferred method of crossing the street is to give up and go home. The alternative to this is waving one hand above your head in wild, large gestures and using the free hand to cover your eyes as you dash into oncoming traffic (of course I didn't do that, Mom...).

I promise to get better pics of traffic, but this sort of shows the 3-wheeled taxis I alluded to earlier. Also, this video is a good representation (note how casually the people cross the street).

We emerged from our hotel again today as a large group to go to the Ambassador Mall to buy cell phones and DVDs. I can call home on the cheap now! Adding to my joy, I bought all 6 seasons of The Office and Band of Brothers/Pacific for less than $20. The greatest part of the day, however, was by far our cultural orientation which began at a hotel and ended at Ibu Irdi's house.

Ibu (Ms/Mother) Irdi is a professor of intercultural studies in Jakarta, and she presented a session on how to become comfortable in our new lives. She had some comforting anecdotes and many wise words. My favorite quote of the day: "Tragedy + Time = Comedy." She focused a lot on American "Individualistic" culture v. Indonesian "Collectivist" culture, stating that many American visitors complain about invasion of privacy/personal space. I haven't experienced this beyond the stares at our "bule (the word for white people) parade" in the mall, but I'm sure it will come. She encouraged us to befriend our colleagues at our posts and rely on them as cultural interpreters. Fantastic advice.

After our session, we were invited to join Ibu Irdi at her home to observe her and her family and friends break fast. This is the holy month of Ramadan, in which Muslims fast all day long and break fast after sunset and after their prayer. After they laid out their prayer rugs to face Mecca, the women donned white garments to cover all but their faces and they lined up behind the men. Ibu's husband stood in front and led the melodic prayer in Arabic. After three repetitions of bowing, kneeling, and touching their foreheads to the floor, the family shook hands and invited us to eat with them. The whole process was absolutely beautiful and filled the whole room with peace and reverence. After dinner, Ibu Irdi led us up a spiral staircase to her roof-top garden, where we could feast on the amazing night view of the Jakarta skyline and be serenaded by the call to prayer by the very-near mosque. I'm sure this will go down as one of my most memorable times in Indonesia. I look forward to learning more about Islam.

This post is getting long; there was just so much to report from these first few days! So, so much to digest. I'll end with a food report as it is one of my stated goals.

Today at lunch I tried: Snake fruit (more fun to peel than to eat), Ikan Bakar (grilled fish), Tongseng Sapi (beef in some sauce), and Gadu Gadu (a "salad" topped with peanut sauce). I'm disappointed in myself thus far. My stomach has been extraordinarily weak since arriving in Jakarta, so my exploration has been limited. I was assured that this was natural...this to shall pass.

Friday, August 20, 2010

I can't even begin to comprehend how I've traveled through time and space over the past 24 hours. Just a montage of neck cramps, standing in lines, and Iron Man II (again and again), peppered with the occasional dining/beverage carts slamming into my knee. All standard fare, I'm assuming. I can distinctly remember writing my first blog in the Pittsburgh airport Thursday morning, and suddenly it's Saturday morning at nearly 4am...and I'm wide awake. Things got significantly better as I met two other ELFs in Chicago and then our party expanded to ten total in Tokyo.

Now we're busy in Singapore taking advantage of a "lounge" that has wifi and showers....ahhh, showers! How is it that sitting still for that many hours makes one feel so nasty? We had reservations set up for our seven hour layover, but they were taken by the time we showed up...selah. Our first "bump."

Ok, let's see, I promised a goal list. I got the idea after reading a blog from a fulbrighter who was in Indonesia last year (thanks to Katie B.!). Seems like a good way to get the most out of and assess the experience

1. Learn bahasa Indonesian - I ran out of time to really focus on this prior to departure, so I'm hoping to get some classes in Jakarta. I'm sure there will be plenty of opportunities to practice ;).
2. Visit the other ELFs' sites - I feel a smidgen of guilt living in the capital city. From what I understand, I'll have most of the comforts of home. I want to visit the other sites to get a feel of the "real" Indo.
3. Find the traditional dancing - I've seen some video (courtesy of Micheal), but I definitely would like to experience the variety. Taking classes would be even better.
4. Find ballroom/salsa/swing dancing - A bonus to living in the capital...there are reports of a Latin scene. I may have to create a swing scene ;).
5. Keep up with running - There are ex-pat running groups and hash teams. I want to get involved as soon as possible just to get into a routine again. Also, running in 90 degree weather and heavy air pollution sounds irresistible.
6. Road bike through the city - Again, Micheal sent a video of someone doing this, and it sounds like a good time (read: terrifying). I've been meaning to get on one anyways so I can eventually do a triathlon. Why not in Jakarta? Might also try to get into diving because it's supposed to be amazing in Indo.
7. Visit the orangutans - 'nuff said. I could add to this Kimono dragons. Also, they should be in their natural habitat.
8. See the world's largest (and stinkiest) flower - who could resist?
9. Visit India - Aarti (an old roommate) lives in southern India, and it would rock my face off to see her.
10. Experience a plethora of Indo food - no questions asked, just eat and report.

That's good enough for now; I'm sure the list will grow. About time to get on the plan for Jakarta, so until then...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Deep Breaths

Dad told me just to take deep breaths. Whoooooosh... It helps.

I'm sitting in the Pittsburgh Airport getting ready to finally embark on this journey that began nearly a year ago. For those of you who don't know, I started teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) two years ago in Akron, OH. I love my job. I can't think of many more rewarding careers. So, when I saw an opportunity open up for professional growth in the field, I jumped at it. Georgetown University and the State Department created a program called the English Language Fellows Program. (Think along the lines of Fullbrighters and Peace Corps). They send English teachers (170+?) to different countries (80+?) around the world (Sorry, I was paying attention during orientation, but I can't remember the exact stats). Anywho...with a little help from some extraordinary people (Martha, Dylanna, Chuck, Dad, Mom...the list goes on), I was selected to go teach in Jakarta, Indonesia (aka the Big Durian). (More about the magical fruit that is durian later....gag). So, here I am with passport in hand. Pitt to Chicago, Chicago to Tokyo (!!! planes should not be in the air this long), Tokyo to Singapore, Singapore to Jakarta.

(Deep breath... Why, yes, this is my first real trip overseas.) I'll be there for 10 months. Annnnd, I'll have the honor of working with the National Police and our Justice Department. I'll be working at a language school (Sebasa) for the Police, teaching English and developing curriculum (thank you Michelle Bush and the Akron PD for giving me a crash course in the US criminal justice system). There are 13 other Fellows (ELFs if you will) going to Indonesia, so I'll be in good company...even if we are spread about this enormous country.

(Exhale....Why, no, I don't speak the language.) Alright, I hope that gives the broad strokes of this experience. More to come. I want to get a goal list on here, but it's just about time to board....maybe in Chicago. Stay-tuned, ya'll. ;)