Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Best part about being a quasi-athlete: the post-race pampering. This is especially true in Indonesia where pampering comes pretty cheap. There are more types of massages than you can shake a stick at, and they all run around $10 USD for 90 minutes. I know, I know, at these rates, who needs to be an athlete? How am I not walking around in a constant jello-like state?

My first year in Indonesia, I experienced fish therapy for which I dangled my feet into a tub of water and let hundreds of tiny little fish nibble away at my toes. This year, I finally tried the famous cream baths, which have nothing at all to do with baths. It's a scalp and upper back massage. You get to pick out the cream of your choice: avocado, chocolate, ginseng, honey, or vanilla. Then, for at least 30 minutes, they paint it onto your head and massage it into your scalp. Your hair smells like the flavor of choice for at least three days after. Delicious.
Gorgeous lady Fellows post cream-bath

Same ladies a bit less gorgeous. Fashion means wearing plastic bags on your head in public because you forgot your umbrella.

Jess convinced me to join her for a particular type of massage called "Foot Reflexology" a week after the Phuket Triathlon. I was aware of the term because I saw the parlors in every city I visited, announced by the familiar colorful picture of feet:

I wasn't sure what I was in for, but because my feet really did hurt, it seemed like a good idea. We walked into a nearby parlor. It was dark inside with vines covering the ceiling, sheets of glass with water pouring down them separating each chair, and natural sounds mixed with classical piano over the loud speakers. Still seemed like a good idea. The prices on the wall said 50,000 Rp ($5) for 60 minutes or 60,000 ($6) for 90 minutes. Seemed like an even better idea. We selected 90 (I mean, c'mon...), and were directed toward our chairs.

Enter creepy mustache man with purple sunglasses.

This man, dressed in what appeared to be a black uniform and military style ball cap, stood in front of our chairs and started asking questions. He was slowly counting Indonesian money from a wad of folded bills in his hand. I knew this was going to be one of those surreal OnlyinIndonesia experiences, so I braced myself.

"Do you want to get a massage?" Um...yes? 
"Where do you live?" Near here. 
"Where do you work?" Far from here.
"Where are you from?" America.
"Oh, America! I studied at UCLA, and my sister lives there now with her Australian husband" Nod. Eyes closing to indicate disinterest.
"You speak Indonesian!" Yup. One eye peaking open.
"Wow. I think it's great when foreigners speak Indonesia." Mmhmm. Eyes closed again. Please go away creepy man. 

Creepy man leaves. Ok, still seems like a good idea.

Then the torture began. A young man, about a foot shorter than me, sat down on a stool in front of me. He placed my feet on yet another stool and started going to town. And by that I mean, he started digging his finger tips and knuckles into every part of my feet until I squirmed in pain. I tried biting my fist, grabbing the arm rests, texting friends, deep breathing...nothing could keep my mind off the pain this little man was inflicting on my body. Well, there was some comic relief when the man next to me belched loudly in time with the strikes on the back from his masseuse. That started me on a laughing jag that I couldn't suppress for a good ten minutes. Again, OnlyinIndonesia. Then back to the pain. I'm fairly convinced that getting a tattoo for 5 hours was less painful.

I guess the idea is that your feet carry the lion's share of the stress in your body, and that your foot acts as a map of your body. For example, your five toes represent your two ears, two eyes, and nose. When the torturer, I mean masseuse, scrapes his bony little finger down the underside of your toes, it's like he's scraping all the bad toxins and stress away from the matching areas of your body.
There are other benefits, I'm told, but none that I can think of right now. I think this is one massage I can live without, even if it is super cheap. Don't take my word for it; go out and get your toxins scraped today!

3 before 30: Laguna Phuket Triathlon

A few years ago, I made two challenges for myself:
1). 26 miles before 26 years old
2). Triathlon (3) before 30 years old

I checked off number one in Cleveland, May of 2009. Since I'm edging in on 30, I needed to make a plan fast to get number 2. In May of last year, I did a sprint triathlon with the Tribuddies in Indonesia. This didn't count because it wasn't an olympic distance, but I was riding so high on endorphins after that sprint, that my friend Miranda and I quickly signed up for the Laguna Phuket Thailand International Triathlon about a week or so after the sprint. This maybe wasn't the smartest thing I ever did.

It turns out that those feel-good endorphins can have the same affect as beer-goggles. We signed up for the Thai triathlon without realizing that it was A). longer than an olympic distance, B). it is considered one of the top ten races in the world - i.e. professional athletes would be competing there, and C). the bike course is infamous for four treacherous hills. So, I did what anyone else would do, I recruited friends Jess and Tabitha to join in our misery.

Here's what we were up against:
1.8 K swim (part in the ocean, part in a fresh water lagoon - just FYI, this is nearly half-iron man distance)
55 K bike (four makemenweep hills in the first 15 K)
12 K run (through a nice flat golf course)

Luckily, I had Jess and Miranda to keep me on track with training. We started as soon as we arrived back in Jakarta. Miranda sacrificed her van and sleep to carry us and our bikes outside of the city each weekend to climb hills. Jess kept me in the pool (my least favorite part) and the gym at least four times a week. Tabitha kept lockstep in her own training program in central Java and motivated us by her unwavering dedication. I would have been miserable without those ladies.

November 23rd rolled around, and we boarded our plane to Thailand. We arrived in Phuket and our private villa owned by the sweetest little Thai woman, Ladowan, and her three dogs. She went beyond the call of duty to drive us to registration the next day and take us around the course. I think this is when the four of us realized we were in trouble. We stared down those hills that even Ladowan's car struggled to get up and took turns muttering four-letter words just under our breath. The only thing we could do now was get enough sleep, eat and pray.
In Ladowan's courtyard.
The night before. Calming our nerves with pasta and Facebook stalking.
At 0500 the next morning, Ladowan dropped us off at the transition area. We did one last check on our bikes and equipment, pumping up the tires and setting out our gear. Then we boarded a ferry to take us to the swim start where we joined a wave of other pink-capped athletes warming up in the ocean. Jess and I ran into Rebecca, a type A, cancer-surviver/triathlon coach who had flown all the way from Alaska with her husband. She filled us in on some last minute tips, encouraging us to hang back in the swim and to conserve our energy for the bike. Later, at the awards ceremony, we would run into Rebecca again and discuss the finer points of peeing on command.

The gun fired, and I remember Rebecca. I walked to the water's edge and let the chaos of swimmers stretch out before me while willing my heart to beat normally. Finally, when the water was about thigh-deep, I dove in and started my stroke. It was amazing. Apart from getting kicked, grabbed, and slapped at various points, I was able to regulate my breathing and keep a strong, smooth stroke throughout the entire swim. I knew I was making good time when I exited the water and heard the announcer yell out Miranda's name. She was just ahead of me, and she was our strongest swimmer. I arrived at my bike and started my rehearsed transition: Energy chew, sunglasses, helmet, belt, socks, bike shoes, gloves. Go.

My confidence from the swim was sucked out of my chest as soon as I mounted my bike and headed towards those hills that kept me up half the night. Hill one: I joined the ranks of riders around me pumping the pedals and breathing heavily. It occurred to me about halfway up that because I was "clipped" into my pedals, the only way I could stop would be to fall over and potentially start an ugly pile up. With panic for fuel, I made it up to the top of the first hill. There were only a few kilometers before the next hill; not enough time to stop the hammering in and dread in my heart. I decided to dismount and walk my bike up the second hill. This is when Jess passed me and like a drill sergeant, tried to get me back on my bike. That was the last time I walked. 

After hills three and four, the course flattened out and winded through villages along the beautiful beaches of Phuket. School children lined the streets with flags and hands outstretched for high fives. It didn't take long before I caught a second wind and finished out the bike strong. That's when disaster struck.

I wheeled my bike into the transition area and looked frantically for the sticker that indicated where to put my bike. I couldn't find it. For four minutes I couldn't find it. I had wheeled myself into the wrong row, and my sticker was only visible from the other side. Frustration and embarrassment nearly had me in tears when I finally threw down my helmet and ran to the next row over. This stupid mistake cost me the podium.

I eventually gathered myself enough to start the run with the mantra "just focus on now" running through my head. It helped that out of the transition area, I started passing people easily. I told myself that running was my sport, and the race wasn't over yet. I fell into an easy pace and made sure I was passing more than being passed. The mantra was quickly replaced by Aretha Franklin singing It's Raining Men, and I knew I was in the right mindset to finish and finish well. I ran into the finish line at 3:51, under my goal of 4 hours. Halleluiah. 

I met up with Jess, who had made it in 9 minutes before me, and we waited to cheer on Miranda and Tabitha. My favorite part of the entire experience was when we all grabbed hands and crossed the finish line together. I still get goosebumps just thinking about it. We had not only survived, but we'd all done pretty damn well.

Post race was sweet with free massages, beer, and burgers. Jess got first in her age category. I was number four, just seconds behind the number three girl (making me kick myself all over again for that bike incident). Still, it was great to watch the announcer call Jess up to the stage and hand her a golden Elephant. We finished the night well with wine glasses raised in a toast to our strong finish and stronger friendship.


Last Saturday, I sat in on a teacher professional development workshop led by one of my fellow Fellows. During a Q&A session, one of the participants very eagerly shared her advice that teachers need to be "supermodels" in the classroom. Stopping just short of parting student desks to make a catwalk, I think she had it just about right.

Cue Rupaul.

And when you walked in to the room
You had everybody's eyes on you

Jess and I are wrapping up and saying goodbye to the sixty officers we've been teaching since September. We met with them four days a week inside the classroom to talk about everything from traffic accident reports to human trafficking. Every day was a challenge to A) learn about the policing concept ourselves first (what is the difference between assault and battery? Is that a blood spatter or splatter?), and 2) pull out the English language features to teach to our students. Don't get me started on how awkward the unit on sexual harassment and rape was to teach to a class full adult males. They were a credit to the badge, though, and perfect gentlemen...apart from the occasional question about why my face can turn so many shades of red.

Luckily, we did manage to get them outside the classroom and away from the textbooks for some less serious talk. 

And it don't matter what you do
'Cause everything looks good on you

On Oct. 31st, Jess and I held the first-ever Sebasa Halloween Extravaganza, complete with costumes, candy, and a pumpkin carving contest. On a whim, we decided that we needed to introduce our students to this great American holiday. In return, the students got into the spirit(s) of the holiday and came in costume. We told them about the origins and trick-or-treating, and they introduced us to some of Indonesia's famous ghosts like the pocong (featured in the bottom left corner) and kuntilanak, a Ring-like lady with long black hair covering her face and a hole in her back.

My favorite part was the jack-o-lantern contest. These guys had never carved pumpkins before, so they all got out their smartphones to look up examples. Then with care and precision they dug in (with their own knives, of course). Here are the results:

I'm not sure what this costume was supposed to be, but I love it!

Wet your lips and make love to the camera.

We also had Native Speaker Day, in which we invited nine folks from America, Great Britain, and Australia to come act as suspects in a murder mystery simulation. They were all superb actors, conjuring up fake tears and nervous ticks along with their fabricated alibis. The students worked in small groups to interview them all and come up with their accusations. First, the students had to introduce themselves with an English yell-yell, or chant. This was the favorite among the guests:

No, Mr. Rusli, you're not supposed to laugh at Deirdre...I mean Rose, the housekeeper, when she cries.

Adam throwing out red herrings like he's a pro...or like he's done this before.

Jon worked out his nervous ticks...rocking and hand wringing.

The guilty were brought to justice!
Work, turn to the left
Work, now turn to the right
Work, sashay, shante 

Last up, Jess, our fellow Fellow Jon, and myself took over morning exercise last week to introduce some more American cultural charms. We split up into three stations: Ultimate Frisbee (Jess), American Football (Jon), and American Line Dancing (me...duh). The classes rotated through each station, staying at each for 30 minutes. In that time, I was able to squeeze in The Electric Slide, The Cupid Shuffle, The Cha Cha Slide, and The Chicken Dance. So, I basically took them through an American wedding reception minus the booze, and they still had fun!

Jon explaining American Football

Three months and one group of students away.
I have just one things to say, You. Better. Work.


Some of you may have been asking yourself, "Gee, I wonder what Jackie does when she's trapped in traffic jams for hours on end?" 

I'm so glad you asked. 

Sometimes I try to keep from going insane by making chitchat with the taxi driver. Sometimes I have to resort to blasting music through my headphones to maintain sanity. But, sometimes, I make lists.

Today, for example, while trying to get the airport this afternoon, I started making a list of things that were being sold on the street around my cab. Since the traffic may only move a few feet every 30 minutes, it makes good business sense for entrepreneurs to parade their goods past the windows of the trapped passengers. In one section of the road, I could have purchased:

1. Calendars
2. Magazines/Newspapers
3. Plastic toy airplanes
4. Pool rafts
5. Inflatable football helmets
6. Kripik (a kind of rice or shrimp cracker that is very popular in Indonesia. Pictured below)

On other occasions, I've seen:
7. Puppies
8. Bronze horse statues
9. Mango slices (mmm)
10. Inflatable penguins
11. Inflatable sharks
12. Inflatable Spongebob chairs
Google Image: Other inflatable things for sale in Jakarta.

13. Drinks 
14. Waria (wanita + pria = woman + man = transvestite; they get so excited to see bule!) 
15. Individual cigarettes
16. White boards
17. Those fighting figures that punch each other when you push the button on their backs
18. ShamWows
19. Jamu (a traditional medicinal drink that is mixed together for you on the street depending on your ailment)
Google image: Jamu Lady
20. Pant-less people (8 and counting...)

Another list I've been working on: Irrational Fears I've Developed Since Moving to Indonesia.

1. The manhole covers on the side walk on the way to the gym will burst up into the air because of incredible pressure building up in the sewers below. Said manhole cover flies straight up into the air as I am about to step over it, therefore catching my chin and taking off my entire head.

2. I forget to look where I’m going as I’m walking out on the tarmac to get on a plane, and I walk straight into the turbine. 

3. I walk under the boom gate that guards every single parking area in Jakarta just as the gate comes down and hits me on the head. 

4. My ojek falls into one of the gutters on the side of each road that is filled with the ‘bog of eternal stench. 

5. I fall through the sidewalk. (this one is more rationale than irrational given the state of sidewalks in Indonesia).

6. Monitor lizard attacks.

7. Getting hit by the Transjakarta bus. This is a large bus that has its own lane, through which it barrels horn a blazing.

And now you know.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Into the Wilds of Borneo

A while back, I read a novel set in a small hamlet in West Java around the 1960s. The hamlet was disconnected from any large city and sustained itself through rice fields and a strong belief in ancestral spirits to guide its future. The novel, The Dancer, was historical fiction, and it painted a pretty accurate picture of life in this hamlet where children grew up bathing each other from a hill-side spring and catching crickets to sell as snacks at the nearest market - a snapshot of the past - or has that much changed?

Last week, I went to meet some friends in South Kalimantan (Borneo) to go bamboo rafting. There were so many times throughout our weekend, that I felt like I was floating through that little hamlet in West Java.

We started the weekend with an early morning trip to the floating market. I should explain first that the town we were visiting, Benjarmasin, is known as the 'Venice of the East' because the city is built along a river.
So, we piled onto a boat, and headed down the river, AKA the backyards-bathrooms-washrooms of the people of Benjarmasin. At 6 o'clock in the morning, people were just coming out of their houses to bathe or scrub laundry on whatever wooden boards made up their house on stilts.

We felt a little bit malu (shy), but they didn't seem to mind that we were being exposed to such a private part of their lives. Maybe that's just out American mind-set taking over, though.

Our breakfast boat!
We continued down the river to more open water and were soon surrounded by boats, small and large, selling fruits, veggies, fried stuff, and more. We saddled up to a boat set up for cooking Benjarmasin's famous soup and ordered breakfast. While we were eating, smaller boats laden with bananas, melons, oranges, and other fruits, latched on to ours, and we bargained for some sides to our breakfast. Perhaps the best part of the floating market was when we found the gorengan (fried stuff) boat. We were handed a long bamboo stick that had a nail sticking out of one end. They we were instructed to spear whatever delicious fried thing we wanted from inside the boat. It reminded me of the claw game, only we were a winner every time, and the prizes were homemade donuts...mmm, donuts.

Morning greetings in the floating market

Fried stuff boat - note the bamboo pole that's used for spearing your food. Best.Idea.Ever.

Close up of delicious fried stuff. Mmmmm.
Oldest mosque in Benjarmasin. Very cool.
The next day, after traveling by van three hours to the more remote village of Loksado, we traded in our river boat for some ojeks. The ojeks took us another 30 minutes or so deep into the wilds of Borneo. We rode along narrow dirt roads and crossed the river several times over rickety, wooden bridges that appeared to have no business carrying any weight let alone several bules on bikes.
We made it all in one piece, despite my constant fear of smashing my smaller driver with my 'massive' American body at each down hill. Well, I take that back, one of our ojeks had the misfortune of losing it's exhaust, and then the pipe connecting the exhaust, and various other pieces as we drove along. Luckily, the driver had the forethought to bring an old rice bag for collecting and carrying the pieces as they fell. Amazingly, the bike and passengers alike made it to the destination...which was a beautiful waterfall!

Finding well-hidden waterfalls might just be one of my favorite past-times in Indonesia - right up there with climbing volcanoes.We scrambled down some slippery rocks and jumped into frigid water - with our shirts and shorts on so as not to offend any spirits lingering around the falls. Our ojek drivers sat up on dry land and amused themselves by watching our chattering teeth and pitiful attempts to swim up to where the falls crashed into the water. I was pretty proud, though, that I was able to climb up the wall next to the falls and impress everyone with my cannonball skills.
Me climbing with some instruction from Jon - It was hard work!


Next up was the main event: Bamboo Rafting. This was moment we'd all be waiting for, hence the super cool shirts that featured Mr. Peanut saying, Mau ke mana, Mister? (Where do you want to go, Mister? - a question frequently asked to bules, men and women alike. No word on why Mr. Peanut made an appearance.) Answer: Bamboo Rafting!  The rainy season hadn't quite begun yet, so the river was not very deep. Our worries were set aside, however, when we arrived at the river side and saw several bapaks busy at work making our rafts. That's right, they made the raft right in front of us, with little more than Bamboo and palm leaves.

We hung out with some pretty pintar (clever) students while waiting for our rafts to be built.

And they continued to be adorable by following us around.
Bamboo Raft construction. I don't know how they did it either.

Our two-hour adventure down the river began a little rocky. And then continued to be rocky. By rocky, I mean the river was so low that our raft literally got caught on just about every rock in the river. There were some deeper parts that were very relaxing, though. When I wasn't chatting with Iris, my raft-mate, I went back to quiet contemplation about this much more basic lifestyle. It felt very much like I'd been transported back 60 to 70 years ago, as I passed young women bathing in the river, children splashing, and old, sun-browned women loading banana bunches on their own rafts to take to market. The nine other fellows and I, with our blue matching t-shirts and cameras, seemed like an intrusion on their simple lifestyle. Then again, just by extension of being around them, I felt my thoughts, breathing, and just about everything else slow down and relax.

The rocks.
The bamboo raft drivers getting us off the rocks.
Very cool bamboo bridge coming off this tree.
Bamboo rafts used for daily living.

Two hours later, we arrived safely back on shore and our bamboo rafting adventure was over. It was, quite literally, a breath of fresh air from big city living. I was able to escape the fast-paced life of Jakarta and learn the rhythms of a much older and (I have a feeling) wiser people. I glimpsed their lives, preserved for centuries, not though a book or museum, but on a boat on a river in the middle of the wilds of Borneo. Pretty amazing.