Thursday, December 15, 2011

How not to run a marathon

This is a bit late, but I'm sitting in the Hong Kong airport with a five-hour layover before I get to go home for the holidays. So, it seems like the perfect time to catch up.

On December 2, my students finished up their studies at Sebasa with the ever formal closing ceremony. Top scoring students are honored, Police hymns are sung, and many, many hands are shook. I feel like I hardly got to know these guys because I was working with UN mission-bound officers for nearly a month. Still, I felt very proud of all of them, and sincerely wished them well as they headed back to their posts

Now, I can think of no better way to celebrate the closing of a session at Sebasa than to jump on a plane to Singapore and run a full marathon. Wait a minute.

Let me back up. Since I arrived back in Jakarta, my lovely runner ladies had been bugging me about signing up for the Singapore half marathon. My strategy to avoid this certain disaster was to drag my feet with thinly-veiled work excuses. "Well, I just never know when the (Embassy/Ambassador/President) will call me up with a favor. Gotta be prepared..."

It worked! I managed to hold off long enough until the registration had closed, and then I put on a pretty good show about how sorry I was that I couldn't join them. Shucks. It's not that I wouldn't have fun traveling to another country to run an endurance race with friends. However, I had been less than diligent about maintaining any sort of regular training schedule. The last time I did a marathon, I trained for the six months leading up to it. Also, I had a nagging foot injury that promised not to get better with 2+ hours of running.

My victory was short-lived, alas. One of our mutual running friends had to drop out last minute, freeing up his registration. The girls were quick to snatch it up for me. Well, alright then. It can't be that bad. Or it wasn't until I realized that this particular registration was for the full, not the half, marathon. Oy.

For one month, I took to the treadmill and track trying to ensure that I, at the very least, wouldn't die. On December 3rd, I flew to the land of the Merlion and met up with Miranda, Lina, and Nani. They picked up my race packet and informed me that my race would begin at 5am the following morning.

There are a few differences between running a marathon in Northeast Ohio and Southeast Asia. Beginning the race at 5am is one. We had to be at the line at 4:30 to get into our correct 'time zones' (i.e. stand with the folks you think you'll finish with). I got there at 4:30, the exact same time the 19,999 other participants showed up. There were lines everywhere. Lines to drop off your bag, lines for toilets, lines just to get to the start line. I made it through the bag deposit and lined up for the toilets. Curious, I finally asked the man in front of me about the time. He casually turned and told me that it was 5:11, eleven minutes after the start of the race. I looked around. There were at least 500 people still standing in lines. Not wanting to delay the inevitable any longer, I decided to head toward the start. Better get this thing over with.

I took my cue from the dozens of other late comers and strolled casually to the start. It was lit up beautifully for the holidays, so it was nice to take it all in. An Australian emcee was just as dumbfounded as I was, commenting on the racers still trickling past nearly 20 minutes after the gun.

I felt good for the first half. It was fun to run in the dark. I got to enjoy the beautiful city while it was still quiet. There were not as many cheer sections as the Cleveland marathon, but then again, it was before 6am. There were a few groups of kids beating on drums, so that was nice.

Running with 20,000 other meant that it was always crowded, for better or worse. Sometimes I appreciated being blocked in and forced to slow down. I was going too fast and burning up too much energy, so I took advantage of those times to cool down and conserve. Other times, I had no choice but to mutter apologies to soften the blow of my elbows as I busted through a wall of slow joggers.

I could see the halfway point, and I felt good. I knew that I had prepared enough to get me though that much. And I had a good time, to boot! I crossed at about 2hrs, the same time as my half in Cleveland. As soon as I crossed 21k, though, it was like running into a brick wall. They say running is 90% mental, and I believe it. My brain knew I wasn't set up for a full, so it kept reminding me of that fact about every kilometer. "You tricked were supposed to stop back there. Well, we'll just see about that." Wham. Every inch of my body started to hurt. On top of it all, the sun came up.

I switched from race mode to survival mode. This meant I did more walking than running. I tried at first to distract myself from my screaming legs and lower back by applying the Asian version of IcyHot - Tiger Balm. I thought my skin was literally boiling off my bones. It turns out that I had broken skin on my lower back from where my shorts rubbed against the skin. Direct contact with Tiger Balm almost brought me to my knees.Oh yeah, and my foot started hurting. Great.

Just after the half mark, I passed the 5:30 pace group (those wanting to cross the finish line at 5 hours and 30 minutes). My new goal became to just hold my position in front of that group. This worked well for me. I would jog along until I had a safe distance between me and the bouncing purple balloons of the pace group. Then, I would walk for a bit until they got uncomfortably close. I still thank God for those purple balloons. My pride wouldn't let me finish later than 5:30, so they kept me going.

With a combination of jogging, walking, and limping I finally made it across the line in 5 hours and 4 minutes, earning myself a shiny medal and a 'finishers' t-shirt. I had chaffing in places I didn't know could exist, three toe-nails not long for life, and shooting pains from my left foot clear up to my hip. But, I think I would do it all over again. I may not have gone about it in the desired way or gotten the most desired results, but I can think of few other ways I would have liked to spend 5 hours.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Binational Thanksgiving

We lacked a few murmuring in the background, wine, recliners for post-dinner comas, crisp, fall weather, wine... but, Thanksgiving 2011 overall was pretty fantastic.

This year, AMINEF, the binational Fulbright commission here in Jakarta, hosted Thanksgiving dinner 2011. This mixed group of Americans and Indonesians pulled together to create a memorable day. The head of the program, American Mike McCoy, had the Four Seasons Hotel procure and cook two turkeys, while both Indonesians and Americans chipped in to supply homemade fixins'.

These three ladies (Hayley, Kathryn, and Kayla), all Fulbright English Teaching Assistants in Indonesia, crashed at my house in order to cook up their favorite family recipes. I readily surrendered my stove, oven, utensils, kitchen, sleeping accommodations, and hot shower in exchange for being able to eat something other than rice for Thanksgiving. Anyone who knows me well knows that I cannot and should not cook. So, I stepped out of the kitchen and let them get to work with the help of fellow fellow Megan.

Yes, those of french fries next to the Turkey. Don't judge.
With minimal problems (we discovered my gas tank leaks and Kathryn got a few drops of blood in the sweet potatoes after an incident with a veggie peeler - we threw them away, I promise!) and a few compromises (they had to improvise a few ingredients), dishes were served up piping hot and mouth-watering delicious.

We circled up around the table, half Americans and half Indonesians, and decided to express what we were thankful for. Somehow the Indonesians got out of this tradition, citing 'newness' to the holiday as their excuse - bah. So, the Americans took turns expressing gratitude for having a group of close friends and homemade food to help celebrate the holiday.

Our Indonesian friends did not get off quite that easily. We did force other traditions upon them such as, going back for three or four helpings and then laying lazily around the table while patting over-stuffed stomachs. We even seriously considered commandeering various office furniture and floor space for nap time, but we were trumped by the boss man who let everyone go home early to digest in the comfort of their own homes. 

The girls and I did just that. We came back to my apartment and all took naps with smiles and the memory of homemade pumpkin pies on our lips. 

Fitting the Mold

Every now and again (once a week), we Fellows get a request from the English Language Office in the Embassy to conduct a workshop at a university or language center separate from our host institution. These are great opportunities to expand our own English teaching repertoire and just to hang out with some new folks.  Also, we usually get our names printed on a cool banner. Bonus! This past week, Lisa and I responded to one such request from Bina Sarana Informatika (BIS) to hold a seminar in learning English vocabulary.

Now, I am no expert in learning vocabulary - or much else - but part of being a Fellow (I've learned over the past year) is expanding your realm of expertise to fit the mold of what is needed - or learning to just fake it really, really well. Just kidding, they wouldn't have chosen us to be a part of the Fellowship program if we couldn't handle doing a little extra reading up on a topic. However, being a fellow does mean that you might, at any minute, have to agree to something just outside of your comfort zone.

Lisa and I (with a guest appearance by Megan!) agreed to tag team the request for Vocabulary learning. A few days after confirming our attendance, the number of participants jumped from 150 college freshman to 300 - and, oh yeah, their English is preeeeety low. After a year, I've come to expect these last minute changes and to roll with the punches, but even after countless workshops, I still get nervous when someone puts a microphone in my hand (you'll notice how my elbows are locked to my side in every picture to hide my icky pit stains). Lisa and I prepared well, though, and the event went more or less seamlessly.

Perhaps the one thing I remember the most from my undergraduate program in education is the motto: "Beg, Borrow, and Steal." The longer I am a teacher, the more and more I see the value in this statement. Our biggest support in the classroom and in situations like this is to pick the brain of the teachers around us. I was able to scavenge through powerpoints from other fellows and other conferences in order to put together a new presentation directed at 300 college freshman with low English proficiency. Why reinvent the wheel?

I was actually really proud of this particular presentation. I taught the students how to learn (versus memorize) vocabulary through: 1. visuals, 2. physical movements (like charades), 3. mnemonics,  and 4. personalizing. Annnd, we had a lot of fun doing it. I used nonsense words from A Clockwork Orange (Thanks to Stuart Vinnie - a presenter at last year's TEFLIN conference) to demonstrate each method.

For example, the students learned the word klootch (key) by asking each other personal questions:

"How many klootches do you carry?"

They learned the word malenky (little) by making a mnemonic:

"The malenky monkey stole my money!"
"The maling (thief in bahasa Indonesia) stole a malenky money."

They got it. They probably didn't understand every word that came out of my mouth, but they were active, they were smiling, and they were learning. Perhaps most importantly, Lisa, Megan, and I were able to connect with 300 Indonesian college students who otherwise may not ever have the chance to personally interact positively with an American (What? They're not all intolerant, Quran-burning, sexually and morally loose millionaires?). Soft diplomacy at work...again. Just goes to show that a malenky work goes a long way.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Images from Central Java

When I wasn't making a fool out of myself in front of hundreds of people at International English conferences, I got to jalan-jalan around the city with friends. Here is what we saw.

1. Visit to a Bakpia Factory (Jogjakarta)- Bakpia is a tasty little ball of dough with chocolate, green beans, or even durian (blech) baked inside.
Flipping the bakpia...job hazard = burnt fingers.

2. Painting Batik (Jogjakarta) - The ladies and I took a several hour course in painting batik. There was much dripping of wax and burning of fingers, but it was a perfect way to enjoy a rainy day.

3. Dinners and Beceks (Jogjakarta) - A fantastic little vegan restaurant and a fantastic group of friends...except for that guy in the hat. He gives me the creeps.

4. The streets of Semarang -  My coworker and dear friend, Iin, took me and several other fellows around to see some sights in Semarang after our conference duties were complete. We saw men preparing chickens for a cock fight, old Dutch buildings, and many other colorful sites.

 5. Gereja Blenduk (Semarang) -  Our first stop was this beautiful church built in 1753.

6. The Train Station (Semarang) - The train station is famous because it boasts over 1,000 doors, and it makes for really pretty black and white pictures. Iin's niece and nephew were particularly taken with the train.

Not bad for a whirlwind trip through Central Java.

Lessons in Moderation

This month, I was able to meet up with my fellow fellows in Semarang, a city in the center of my island, for Indonesia's International English conference: TEFLIN.

Each of the fellows is asked to present an hour-long workshop on some successful strategies we've used in the classroom. This year, I had the added bonus of getting to moderate for one of the key-note speakers. This means introducing the speaker and topic, opening the floor up for questions, and then wrapping up the session with a nice little summary. 
I was quite proud of my performance behind the microphone...that is until I opened up the floor for questions. We only had time for one question; should have been a cake-walk.

"Yes, you, sir."
"Yes, thank you for the time. My name is (names removed for the protection of the innocent and because I can't remember them). My question has three parts...."
Oh no.
"First, why do you think blah blah blah....."
You talk, I'll just be here writing up my wrap up summary. 
"Second, blah blah blah...something totally irrelevant...blah blah blah...."
Glance at clock.
"And third, blah blah...aren't you impressed with how much I can say without saying anything at all...blah..."
Finally. He's finished. Silence. The keynote speaker looked at me with furled eyebrows.
"What was the first part?" he mouthed.
Damn. What do I do now? I clearly failed my first attempt at moderating. I was supposed to be taking detailed notes on the question. I don't have a freakin' clue what the first question was. I turned to the man and grasped the mic to do the only thing that could be done at that point.
"What was the first part?"
The audience erupted into laughter. At least I had their sympathies. After another five minute explanation in which the man asked essentially why the Indonesian English educational system was broken, the key note was able to grasp on to something and save the day. I sputtered out a one-liner closing statement, shook the speaker's hand, and jetted for a seat in the back of the auditorium. That went well.

Looking back on it, my first experience as a moderator wasn't that bad. I've lived through far more embarrassing experiences...involving rollerskates....but we'll save that story for never. Live and learn, right? Luckily, my spirits were lifted by some pretty spectacular cultural performances later that evening. I got to meet these young and talented dancers and eat some pretty delicious local food. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Princess for a Day

When we dream of being a princess as little girls, tiaras, puffy dresses with miles of tulle, and about a truckload of glitter fill our minds; the stuff of fairytales and Disney films. In Indonesia it's a bit closer to home and reality - with far less tulle. On a recent trip to Central Java, I got to visit The Kraton, a real live palace with a real live Sultan and Royal family (princes and princesses!). I'm still uncertain about how a Sultan plays into the larger Indonesian government, but nonetheless His Majesty, The Sultan-Carrier of the Universe, Chief Warrior, Servant of the Most Gracious, Cleric and Caliph that Safeguards the Religion Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X lives and rules.

Once upon a time (last week), in a land far, far away (Jakarta), there lived a plain bule who traveled the land teaching English. Her true dream, however, was to become a princess. She read from a mystical tome (Lonely Planet) that a kingdom lie in the city of Jogjakarta. So, she boarded the mighty Lion (Air) and set out to learn how to fulfill her dreams. After a long a arduous flight (the evil fiend Kenny G tested her endurance the entire journey), she arrived at the gates of the kingdom.

Her journey to become a princess would not be easy.
She learned from the palace wisemen that she would face many challenges.
First, she had to get past the palace guards....

 ...and many evil spirits...
...and the...wait a minute...I don't know how to make this one evil; it was just a cool picture. Oh man, it's ruining the whole story. Just scroll down quickly...
Ehm...where was I? Oh yes, just in the nick of time, a handsome palace guard came to her rescue. He told her that the true secret to becoming a princess did not lie within the Sultan's palace but rather...
 ...*Poof* within these boxes and bags! And, of course, the talented hands of many makeup artists. Begin cool transformation sequence:

Princess Tabitha

Princess Meghan
My turn!

I was in good hands. Thanks, Ladies!
Princess Jackie
Left to Right: Princesses Tabitha, Angela, Mickie, Meghan, Iris, Jackie
Queen Megan and Sultan Jonthon (special thanks to Jonthon for making this whole adventure happen!)
Prince Matthew
You'd fight over her, too.
We may have taken a stroll through the mall and made a spectacle out of ourselves (do you have any idea how hard it is to walk in those skirts? It's an art form, I tell you) but hey, it's not everyday that you get to be a princess.
So, many hours and corsets later, the plain bule was transformed into a beautiful putri Jawa. And while it remains to be seen if she'll live happily ever after, she and her friends (enter some corny ending here...doo be doo, hey nah hey nah). 
The end.