Sunday, October 24, 2010

Meet my students

I've talked about my students over and again, but I realized that I never included pictures. It just so happens that we had "picture day" last week, so I had a great excuse to get my camera out. Not that anyone needs an excuse to take pictures here. My students will often interrupt class or their fellow students' presentations to take snap shots of whomever. Ok, ok, usually me. I swear they do it just to see me blush, and I oblige every time. Damn bule factor.

More on blushing, since I'm on the subject. Don't let these serious faces or the whole special forces thing fool you. Deep down, they are all 15 year-old boys (which I suppose is universal). At least once a day, they manage to turn a grammar lesson into an inappropriate joke. Like the day we were practicing imperative (commands). I broke the class up into three groups, and each group had to write imperatives as either 1) a parent to a child; 2) a high rank officer to a lower rank officer; or 3) a police officer to a criminal. Group one collapsed into a fit of giggles approximately 5 minutes into their group brainstorming session. When I investigated, among their imperatives was "Wear Protection." Sigh. At least they got the grammar right. I let them get their giggles out, and then as any good conductor would do, I circle my hands round, and the students fall silent as my hands close finger tips to thumb. Works like a charm. 

So, here's the break down. There are 60 students total, but they are divided into four classes of fifteen - two NCO (non-commissioned officers) classes and two Inspector (officers) classes. Typically they wear dress shirts and ties to class, which I recently found out is to discourage higher ranking officers from making the lower rank officers do all the work. (Now that's an educational barrier they don't teach us about in teacher school). But, on picture day, the students wore their uniforms, so I got to ask them about rank, patches, and other honor medals. Neat stuff.

Also, this week I was able to secretly take video of the hilarity that is "physical training." I've mentioned in an earlier blog that PT usually involves line dancing. Sometimes we take a group walk/jog around the city or the complex. Sometimes we play football (soccer) or table tennis. Sometimes we chill out at the canteen and eat fried stuff and donuts. But, usually, we dance.

Somewhere there, near the front, is the Ka Sebasa, or the Head of the school. He rocks those dances.

Hope you enjoyed meeting my guys (and one lady!). They would all very much like to come to Ohio and meet you all, but pictures and videos will have to do for now. If you ever want to visit, though, you'll have your pick of body guards for the city/island of your choosing!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

On holiday

"What do you do on holidays, Ma'am?"

This is a common question from both my students and my fellow teachers. I learned quickly that by "holiday," they actually mean "weekend." My answer, sadly, is usually, "Not too much."

Living in a huge city like Jakarta, I feel like I should be out roaming around, visiting here and there, taking in the local culture, etc. I have plenty of friendly folks who will accompany me, too, so that's not the problem. I guess I've always been more of a loner by nature, and that hasn't changed since moving to a new country. I generally like to spend my weekends in solitude...catching up on work, recharging, and refreshing for the week to come. So, I've made it a personal challenge to accept most social offers - force myself to get out, socialize, and experience the world I inhabit.

This past weekend was an extra special treat, though. Friend and ELF Julianne came to visit! It is so much easier to explore a city when you have a travel buddy. Ok , we didn't do traveling so much as restaurant exploration, but mmmm, I'm okay with that.

There are a ton of restaurants in walking distance from my apartment, but I never check them out because I didn't want to dine alone. With Jules as my dining companion, we managed to try no less than six restaurants and one donut/coffee house. You can see a few highlights in here.

 Side: While, I still may have troubles getting down with eating a whole fish on my plate, endless fried everything, and the sambal (spicy red sauce) that accompanies nearly every Indonesian dish, it is all balanced out by the omnipresent fresh fruit juices. Every restaurant menu has a list of the juices where we would have a list of sodas. They are delicious, and (I hope) nutritious (you can't always tell how much sugar or milk has been added). And, I'm learning about so many new fruits! So far my favorites are mango, strawberry, and sirsak.

Last week, I watched the cafeteria workers from Sebasa beat down mangoes from the tree in front of my office. Now, that's fresh. There is also a "jambu" tree in front of the office. The teachers dip this watery and somewhat bitter fruit with a special chilly-sweet sauce that tastes something like eating pepper spray. Yes, they enjoyed watching the bule sweat and cough after even the tiniest sampling of this special treat.

Jules and I also did a bit of shopping. We were on a mission to find an evening gown for an upcoming Marine Ball hosted by the US Embassy. It's a formal affair, so floor-length gowns are expected. The problem is "floor length" is defined somewhat differently when it comes to Asian sizes, and Jules is every bit as tall as me - landing her in the "giant" end of things with me (not a good feeling). I side-stepped the issue by finding a tailor to make a dress, but many of the girls were hopeful that they could find inexpensive dresses in Jakarta. After going to countless malls (you would not believe the amount of malls around here - mall walking is a close second to Karaoke in the national sport category), Jules came up empty handed. But, all was not lost, because along the way, we found and experienced Kopi Luwak...roughly translated as "cat poop coffee."

 Jules, having lived in Indonesia for a year already, knew all about this exclusive coffee that is indigenous to Indonesia. Apparently, it's a big deal. Oprah said so. Also, a single cup of this stuff can run you $50 in America. And here's what happens. A cat-like creature called a civet (Luwak in Indo) eats the coffee cherries and poops them out after their stomach enzymes have done their magic. Then some lucky workers gather the magical excrement and turn it into a $50 cup of joe. Mmmm. Jules and I, along with my friend Miranda (from running) stumbled upon the kopi luwak cafe in one of the malls. Jules really wanted to see what the buzz was all about, so we went in. Lucky for us, the coffee only runs about $8 a cup here, which is still really expensive by Indo standards, but cheap enough to give it a whirl. Jules ordered a cup to share.

The girls with Sara Sidner, international correspondent for CNN

Before taking a first sip, a woman approached our table, explaining that she was from CNN. With a camera crew behind her, she asked Jules if she could record her first kopi luwak experience on film. Sure, why not? CNN apparently was doing a feature on Indo, highlighting several special treats that will air the week of Nov. 22. So, with much anticipation, glaring lights, and big fuzzy microphone floating in front of us, Jules took her first sip of the drink and passed the cup around. Tastes like...(drum roll....) coffee.We sipped, swirled, and sloshed but unanimously agreed that is still tasted like plain ol' coffee. Granted, none of us are coffee connoisseurs, but for such fan fare, I really expect to experience a miracle in a cup. Selah. At least it came in this pretty little bag.

But the fun did not end there. On the way back to my apartment, we passed through an area of Jakarta called "Menteng." This is the neighborhood where Obama spent a brief part of his childhood. I asked Miranda about it while we were sitting at a red light. Without a second thought, she threw the car in reverse, and we headed toward Obama's elementary school.

                                                                              In typical Jakarta style, the skies clouded over as we drove to the school. The rain let loose in a down pour just as we pulled up to the school. But being the crazy bules that we are, Jules and I bounded out of the car to get pictures with Obama's school. Miranda (the sensible native) stayed in the car, but threw an umbrella out after us with an amused look on her face.

There it was...looking pretty much like any other school (well, maybe a bit nicer than most in the area). There was, of course, a big plaque with Obama's face on it by the front gate and a bronze statue of him as a child smack dab in the middle of the courtyard. (Oddly, there is a replica of the statue in a Mexican restaurant we visited later in the weekend). He's supposed to visit in November, and will likely take a trip to his old stomping grounds. This maybe the closest I'll ever get to the man...half way across the world. ;)

Saturday, October 16, 2010


I had a special treat this week because Julianne, another ELF staying on Java, came to visit me for several days in Jakarta. Along with having a blast dining out at numerous lovely restaurants, she brought me my pictures from Bali!!! So, with out further ado, may I present paradise...

First stop: Nusa Lembongan.

Nusa (island) Lembongan is a small island off mainland Bali. It mostly attracts surfers and divers and doesn't have much of anything else going for your average tourist. I, sadly, am neither a surfer nor a diver, so I didn't do much, but relax, eat, relax while eating, and explore. Just what the doctor ordered after about a month of adjusting to a new country, culture, and job.

Our villa was a quiet little place right on the shore. Despite the cold showers, the staff kept us happy with good food and suggestions for daily adventures.

The narrow streets of the island were lined with intricate Hindu temples. The girls and I fell into the laid back tempo of the locals. We spent our days exploring by foot or petal bike (and one harrowing ride on motorbikes) and photographing anything and everything.

I'm gonna let the photos speak for me - 1,000 words and all that. Take a look at what we saw:

We couldn't get enough of the temple designs, but the beauty continued on the outskirts of the island.

Mt. Agung...the largest volcano in Bali
Seaweed Farms
Watching the waves crash on the rocks at Dream Beach. 
Beware the jelly fish

And, of course...there was snorkeling...
Tony - our fun (and ever patient) snorkel guide

Next stop: Ubud - the cultural center of Bali. I could easily live here. In addition to more amazing temples and food, there were dances, monkeys, 4am hikes up volcanoes, batik classes, and so much more. There are stories to accompany each of these photos, but I don't have the time just now to record them all. I O U?
Our Hotel!!!
Sunrise from the top of the volcano

First stage of Batik making
Ta Da! The final product!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

When in Indonesia...

No great breakthroughs or grand adventures this week, but still, there were some blog-worthy moments.

Tuesday night, for instance, one of my classes invited me and some of the other teachers out for karaoke. Karaoke, it should be mentioned, is like the national sport here in Indonesia. Indonesians do karaoke like we go bowling. Now, I don't mind singing in church, my car, or my apartment, but under no circumstances should that singing be singled out and magnified via a microphone. And, for those of you who know me well, I don't handle embarrassment all. So, naturally I agreed to join my students for a night of what promised to be pure hell. When in Indonesia...

On the way to karaoke bar, I tried to down play the situation. We'll be in a big place. You'll only have to watch. Maybe you can sing with a group!. Oh, silly Jackie. After greeting several of my students who were waiting at the door, we were ushered up three flights of stairs to our very own, private room about the size of my living room. There was a long couch along three of the walls, two computer screens for selecting songs, three microphones, and one large flat-screen TV displaying the music videos and words on the opposite wall. There goes wishful thinking number one. Wishful thinking number two and three were not long for life either.

I tried my very hardest to blend in with the couch, but inevitably, one of my students would ask me for a song title or artist. When I came up empty, they began choosing English songs for me. Scene: The music starts. Over the speaker, "Miss Jackie, I picked this song special for you." Someone shoves a microphone in my face. Oh dear Lord. Wait, what this My Way? Stand up. Here we go. Sometimes they would have mercy and sing with me...but occasionally, they would all stop singing mid-verse and send me careening head first into a shaky solo. At least the lights were out so you couldn't see my tomato-red face with sweat pouring down. But wait, it gets worse. After barely surviving Frankie, the songs only go more obscure. "Oh, Carol" was another song selected especially for me. Anyone? Oh, Carol? No, I didn't think so. I felt like I was letting down the whole class. I know it's in English, but I swear I've never heard of this song!!

AND...there's more. Often, the English songs did not have the proper music videos (for copyright reasons, I'm sure), so there would be random scenes from nature or perhaps a cheesy film of a man and woman leaping slow motion through a field. I'm not joking. The best (or worst) was during the song "Hero." To accompany this very inspiring song, there was a busty, glistening blonde donning an orange string bikini, lying on the beach rubbing herself in the most provocative manner possible. Let me remind you that I'm the only American female sitting in a very small room full of mostly Muslim police men. Blush. Luckily, I only have to go through three more classes of this. ...

There were some bright spots during the weekend. I was invited to my very first wedding ceremony. One of the Mandarin teachers got married earlier this month in Sumatra, but she and her family held a western reception of sorts for her friends and colleagues in Jakarta. On Friday, S'oegma and Vero, two of my colleagues from Sebasa, took me shopping for a nice batik shirt for the wedding. I went a little crazy, but they are so beautiful. Also, Indonesian's have batik Fridays like we have casual Fridays, so I justified my little shopping spree by wanting to be culturally appropriate. I also attempted to buy a new pair of dress shoes, which was a complete failure since the mall next to my apartment doesn't carry "giant" sized shoes. (I used to complain about being a size 10 in America...being a size 41 in Indonesia is far worse.)

Ibu Ani, Ibu Iin, me, Ibu Niken, Ibu Unaeny - all fellow teachers at Sebasa. I'm wearing heels, I swear.

To wrap things up, I got to join Miranda to her church on Sunday. She attends a massive church that holds services in Bahasa Indonesian, Mandarin, and English. The highlight was a goose-bump good performance by the youth choir. I'll be going back ;). We met up with Hilda and her sisters for lunch afterward at an amazing Vietnamese restaurant, where I ate chicken out of a halved pineapple and to-die-for, warm banana crepes with ice creme. I love happy endings. ;)
Okay, I should have taken this picture before I started eating, but it was too good to wait!! Oh, and my chop sticks skills are getting amazing. Just sayin'.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Beating the Curve

During pre and post arrival orientation, we were warned about the "Culture Shock Curve" - which basically explains the emotions you'll experience when living in a new country/culture. Everyone experiences the curve in different ways, but most people start happy and excited - move on to really frustrated and sad - and end with a well-balanced acceptance. I've been in Indonesia for nearly a month and a half, so it's probably too early to tell, but I have to say that I haven't really shifted out of stage one. Of course, of course, there are days and even small moments where I go through the whole gauntlet at once, like: when I'm stuck in traffic for 2 hours, get a disappointing meal (this happens a lot), or face some communication barrier at a store. (Side - I'm constantly compiling a small list of things I miss about Ohio/America. So far it includes: parks, free water, The Hot Dog Shoppe, baked goods, ovens, dryers, double stuffed Oreos, sidewalks, and swing dancing - friends and family being a given :). Anyways, things are good. And I'd like to introduce you to a few reasons why.

 Meet Hilda and Miranda. I mentioned before that I joined a running group that meets every Saturday morning at the zoo. Hilda, Miranda, and about four other of their friends meet there every week also. These ladies happily offered to give me a ride to and from the zoo every week (saving me a load on taxi fare!) without evening knowing me. Since that first week, we've gotten to know each other quite a bit better. I learned that Hilda is an avid salsa dancer, and Miranda would like to learn, so we meet up at the Ritz for dancing from time to time. They are both world travelers (Miranda's sister went to Ohio State ;), and have fun stories to tell. Miranda even offered to take me to her Presbyterian church next week. In honor of our first race, I invited the girls over the night before for a carb-loading pasta dinner. Together we cooked penne, drank champagne, and ate sinfully good sweets!

If only I had brought a red shirt...
Our first race was today in downtown Jakarta. Apparently, every Sunday, a certain portion of a major highway through Jakarta is shut down, and people are encouraged to get out and walk, bike, or rollerblade for exercise. This, by the way, is pretty unusual as the girls tell me that fitness is on about the same priority level as the environment awareness around here.

On this particular Sunday, there was a 10k race to benefit heart disease research. God smiled upon us by covering up the sun and supplying a small breeze, so it was a pretty perfect race day. All-in-all, the race was on par with any other race I've been too, minus the two times I had to stop to let cross traffic go by, the random strangers who came up and ask to have a picture taken with me (x2), and that moment at the end where I was asked to join a group of other bules to pose for a "water commercial" photo. I still struggled with running in the heat and humidity, but I met up with an ex-Marine who works at the Embassy about 2k in, and we helped each other out the rest of the way. And, now I have my benchmark for the next race: 0:58. :)

Next, meet Sarah from the UK - endless supplier of fun British sayings and helpful Jakarta tips. Sarah and I were introduced by Maura, the ELF who was in my position for the last two years. Sarah has lived in Jakarta for a little over a year and knows vastly more about the language and the lay of the land than I do. In three meetings, we had coffee in Menteng (where Obama went to school), ate pork in a German pub, and today we traveled by train to Bogor.

Bogor is a smaller town just south of Jakarta famous for its botanical garden. For us, today, it was a perfect escape from Jakarta. After a 45 minute train ride, we stepped out onto the tracks and on into the narrow streets of Bogor. Fresh air! After a short walk through the vendor-lined street, we ended up at a wonderful open-air restaurant that overlooked the village and a fantastic view of a mountain covered in clouds.

Sitting, chatting, and drinking fresh juice was just the thing I needed to digest all of the craziness that is living in a city of 30 million and tackling a new job. But then, it got even better. About 15 minutes after our arrival, there were three performances of traditional dances from Indonesia. The first was a lovely lyrical Sudanese dance performed with a fan, the second was a technical Balinese dance complete with "crazy eyes" - as Michaela calls them, and the third was a dance from the far east near Papua Guinea. I couldn't get too close, but here is a video of the Sudanese dance:
An amazingly refreshing way to spend a Sunday! It definitely couldn't have happened without the help of these fantastic people. I'm sure bad days will come, I'll reach that second stage, but I've got plenty of friends around to help me beat the curve :)

I leave you with some of the restaurant's finer menu choices...
Goldfish! (Sarah assured me they don't really mean goldfish)
They really do eat every part of the chicken.
Mmmm...fried ox lung