Friday, November 25, 2011

A Binational Thanksgiving

We lacked a few things...football 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.
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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.

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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.

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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. 
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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.