Saturday, August 25, 2012

Round Three

America is great. Or is it just that America is home that makes it great? When I'm home for the summer, I am wholly me again, assured and confident in familiar surroundings. In Indonesia, I am stripped of some of this confidence and independence.

Getting back behind the wheel of a car is so simple, but it is an enormous pleasure that I cannot experience in Indonesia (I could, but choose not too because of crazy traffic and that whole right-side drive thing). This might explain why I put over 2,000 miles (four new brakes and two tires) on the VW in the span of two months. I love driving. Surfing the wind with my hand, blaring good cruising tunes, and shifting like I'm starring in the next Fast and Furious film. There is a freedom in it as well. I can get from point A to point B without tracking down a taxi, bargaining poorly with an ojek driver, or burdening a friend or coworker for a ride.

How I feel when I drive:

Even without wheels, I can lace up and go for a lone run or a ride on a bike without concern for offending passersby with my exposed knees or shoulders. I can wear short shorts and tanks in Jakarta - a very moderate city in the world's largest Muslim nation - but I would only do so with a herd of other runners dressed similarly. To do such an act alone would surely invite unwanted stares and comments in a culture where modesty is highly valued. It's not that I am particularly immodest, but there was something about pounding pavement in just a sports bra, shorts, and shoes that is sublime.

How I feel when I run:

And then there are the simple things: Drip coffee. Drip coffee alone in the house before anyone wakes up. Drip coffee shared with a friend over breakfast in a local diner. Nines without tails. Fish without heads. Water from the tap. Understanding casual conversations of others in line while waiting for my Subway sandwich. Subway sandwiches. Everything bagels. Sweater weather at night.

But then, asks everyone, why do you keep going back?

Comfort is nice in small doses, but if I'm not careful, it can lead to a very boring, fat, and small me. My colleague Tabitha wrote a great piece about having an American hangover that explains this in a bit more detail: Hi my name is Tabitha, and I'm an Ameriholic.

Everything from eating fish with heads to standing in front of 300 teachers or students of English is a challenge that makes me grow and understand the world around me just a bit more. And Indonesia is so much more than its religious beliefs (which vary largely, by the way). I experience a level of generosity here on a daily basis that boggles the mind. At birthday celebrations here, the birthday girl or boy pays for everyone else's meals. There is also a sense that Indonesians don't take themselves so seriously. They joke openly about weight and other physical shortcomings and tease easily with one another about gaffes, fumbles, and farts. It's a bit refreshing to not worry so much about embarrassing or offending someone as we do in our sometimes uber sensitive American society. My ego can take it (usually) and be all the better for it. Finally, there is a refreshing friendliness among complete strangers here, as described briefly here by an expat writing about Indonesians' affinity for taking photos of white folk:

Americans are generally more wary of strangers than were the Indonesians I encountered. Maybe it relates to the prevalence in our country of telemarketers and door-to-door salesman. In any case, a stranger’s request to take a photograph would be received suspiciously by many Americans, who would worry they were about to be taken advantage of.

'Western Tourists Visit Indonesia for the Sights, and Become the Attraction' - featured in the Jakarta Globe

It's true, we do often have great reason for not striking up a conversation with every person that crosses our path, but I've witnessed here how those small extensions can lead to big discoveries about the human spirit and warmth.

In the past two years, I've commenced my blogging with a goal list usually revolving around me. How can I be a better teacher, language speaker, traveler, adventurer? This year, maybe I'll focus on something a little outside of me: generosity, levity, and friendliness toward others.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Southpaw Living

In honor of National Lefthander's Day, I feel it my duty to dedicate blog-space to the southpaw experience. I am one of the 10 per cent of the world's population that can claim left-handedness. I am also part of the first generation that wasn't forced to be right handed. My uncle should proudly pen with his left hand, but my grandmother did what society mandated and saved him from doing the Devil's work. Even today, I still experience Southpaw persecution: I cannot eat with my left hand while in Indonesia - a country where eating with your hands is common. The left hand is considered unclean (I'll not get into why, but it involves the bathroom) and should not touch food. I had to sit on my left hand during meals for the first few months in my new home so as not to offend my friends or inadvertently spark an international-relations crisis. Even when I can use cutlery, I'm exiled to end of the table, where my elbow cannot interfere with you right-handers. Don't even get me started about trying to find a left-handed desk. 

Left-handedness even affects the brain, or at least I'm a firm believer that it does. Here are things I blame on being left-handed:

Inability to give directions (interestingly, I mix up my left and right in another language as well as in English), childhood mispronunciations (lemonwellon/watermellon, panshoe/shampoo, psgetti/spagetti), misspelling, delayed shoe-tying ability, flexible ear cartilage, missing-my-big-chance-with-the-Rockettes-because-I-couldn't-tell-my-left-foot-from-my-right-foot-during-dance-class, excessive palm sweat, letter reversals (particularly b/ds), adult mispronunciations (I call it vowel dyslexia), frequent board-writing smudges, fear of heights, sloppy handwriting, gear shifting amnesia, and gravy boat accidents.

Of course, it's not all bad. To balance out my suffering, I also get to be "right-minded." This means that I'm more creative and artsy. This is true. I have a pretty steady sketching hand with which I like to do henna and draw tattoos for my siblings. I can choreograph dances with some success. My creative writing is not bad. And, I have a knack for visual layout (i.e. I rock power point). Being that I'm not totally left-hand dependent (I can do everything but write, eat, and bowl right-handed), I can enjoy the more pragmatic left-mindedness. I am a supreme list maker, for instance. 

For good, bad, and befuddled: Here's to you, Southpaws of the world!