Sunday, September 20, 2009

Kicking Off

So, we are finally in our last week of orientation, which means on Saturday we are all going to be escorted to our houses by our teaching counterparts. Which means I am going to be living alone in a five-bedroom (yes, five) house in East Java this weekend. After over three weeks living with thirty other Americans in a Western-style hotel, this is going to be a shock. I am, however, ready to start traveling by myself, even though this will mean a lot more attention and a bit more courage on my part. This also means that this blog will (hopefully) start getting a lot more interesting.

Over the past week I have recovered from a pretty bad cold after driving three hours up and three hours back to visit hot springs and a white crater south of Bandung (and breathing in exhaust the whole time). I have eaten more plates of veggies covered in peanut sauce than I can name. I have ridden in dozens of angkots (Indo transportation; basically minibuses with two little bench seats inside. Very crowded and hot, but they leave the doors tied open so there's a good breeze). I've celebrated the end of Ramadhan laying on pillows with some friends while listening to imams calling from mosque to mosque, watching amateur fireworks, and trying to understand how we got here, how we were actually in Indonesia. In the beginning this feeling almost never left me, this feeling of awe, of being displaced but of experiencing something unlike anything I had ever seen or felt before. Now though, these moments of raw amazement are quite sparse. Yesterday we ventured north of Bandung to an Indonesian park to see waterfalls and to bathe in some sulphur hot springs, and it just seemed like a normal thing to do on a Sunday afternoon. Very little - the rickety wooden bridge with a handwritten sign limiting the number of 'orang' or people on the bridge; the monkeys soaring from branch to branch in the trees; the little old lady grilling corn for us right next to one of the most spectacular waterfalls I've ever seen - none of this brought these feelings of 'how did I get here?'. Instead seeing a group of 'bulehs' or Westerners in the park actually freaked us out. Yes, we are all Americans (though quite diverse looking; I definitely stand out the most) but seeing ourselves in another group of people was a bit shocking. Being a head taller than everyone around me, in elevators, at markets, has become day-to-day life.

Now I just need to get ready for being The American in Malang. The English Language Fellow in my city has told me people stare, follow her, and occasionally touch her. And she's about 4 inches shorter than me and a brunette. This means getting comfortable with never having privacy; it means getting your picture taken with whole families of Indonesians everyday; it means hearing the phrase "Hello, Mister" about nine or ten times a day (a lot of Indonesians know this, and only this phrase). But it also means I get the chance to experience real Indo life; it means I will be teaching full time; it means I will be speaking Indonesian instead of English outside of school everyday; it means I will be traveling on weekends (first up, Bali), and it means my fellowship is actually kicking off...

Selamat Idul Fitri!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Getting Out

After about 8 days in crowded, polluted cities with no sidewalks, it was time to get out. I have a couple friends from school in Indonesia, and one of them invited me to her parents' house about 40 minutes outside of Bandung in a town called Purwakarta. Since it's Ramadhan her family's drivers couldn't come pick us up, but two other ETAs and I decided to public transport ourselves out there, and I'm VERY glad we did.

After talking to my friend and the hotel stuff we had a rough idea of where we were going. After breakfast on the hotel terrace this morning, we ended up taking a taxi to the bus station, and were happily surprised when the buses were Greyhound look-alikes. However, when we found our bus it definitely had more of a 'I've been around,' bombed out appeal. We couldn't complain though because one tour of the city and a very fast trip up the mountains later, we were in Purwakarta. The town, although apparently pretty large, is much less developed than anything we had ever seen and we definitely stood out. We ended up hailing a mini-bus type shuttle with a bunch of Indonesians already in it and taking it to Indorama, the gated community where my friend lives. She told us to ask for Mr. Kapoor's house once we got into the taxi and somehow it worked and we made it. As I am writing this I realize I am making this seem a lot easier than it was. Our lack of Indonesian and the absence of English speakers definitely added some road blocks throughout our trip.

To condense the day a little bit, I will just say that we had an amazing Indian-style late breakfast in my friend's house - an absolutely beautiful villa. Her father runs the textile factory in the community so his house is provide for him and it overlooks a large man-made lake that actually provides most of Jakarta's electricity through a dam. Since my friend and her family had to leave in the late afternoon to go back to Jakarta she took us down to the lake where we rented a questionably seaworthy boat for a half hour. We rode all around the lake and saw this crazy fishing village built right into the lake with stilts and barrels supporting the houses. Our boat driver even stopped at one of the restaurants, though since it looked like it was about to sink AND no one was eating since it's Ramadhan we had to pass. After the boat ride we went back to the house, ate some fruit and veggies and decided to come back to the city. On the bus ride back we noticed that a bunch of Indonesians had drinks in their hands that they all opened right as the sun was setting. Not eating or drinking in this heat because of Ramadhan is pretty unimaginable for us; we drink about 10-12 bottles of water a day. I guess we'll have to get used to the heat...

Anyway, tomorrow is the start of language classes. I'll keep you posted!


Friday, September 4, 2009

One Week In

Despite the fact that I have about eighteen mosquito bites, a jammed finger, and a giant black and blue mark on my ankle I am happy to be one week in to orientation here in Bandung, West Java. We got in Sunday to Jakarta after a night in Singapore and spent a week doing our administrative orientation. Since Jakarta is one of the most polluted cities in the world (the third worst, I think) we were all happy to get out of there, even though our hotel was great and we did get to see some of the tourist sites. Let's just say I am happy to see the sun again after 6 days. Now we're spending the next three weeks in Bandung simultaneously learning to teach AND speak Bahasa Indonesia. We'll see how that goes...

So far it is tough to say a lot about Indonesian life or how the actual teaching will go once I reach Malang, my home site. That's because we've moved from one air conditioned hotel to another with about 30 other ETA's. I can't complain though, because everyone doing the program is hilarious, interesting, and a lot of fun to hang out with. It's going to be tough to leave everyone to go to Malang. However, I just found out that one of the English Language Fellows, an American teacher picked to teach and train teachers at the university level in Indonesia will actually be in my town. Oddly enough her name is Courtney (we both introduced ourselves at the same time during orientation, and freaked each other out). Even though she is going to be very busy at her university, I have a feeling that we will hang out after classes and on weekends. We both want to do a lot of outdoor stuff in Malang -- Mount Bromo, apple orchards, and who knows what else. I'm happy I'm not the only Courtney in Java.

Since I didn't post at all from Jakarta, I'm including a list of some of my more interesting encounters here so you can get a better impression of the city.

- Jakarta is known for its incredibly large and diverse malls. The first day we were there we went to a huge electronics mall with lots of strange American restaurants like A&W. No purchases but we did get lost a few times. The second mall we went to was a cross between the Mall of America and Epcot. There were more stores than I have ever seen, and it was tough to remember that I wasn't in New Jersey.

- The old Dutch corner of Jakarta has seen better days, but we did go out to a place called Café Batavia, an old Dutch residence with large rooms and huge windows. Definitely gave me a sense of the old colonial days, but the area surrounding it had a lot of abandoned buildings and strange street dwellers. Probably better to see by day.

- I went to a lot of great Asian restaurants, including a place called Face Bar with some of the best Thai food I've ever had. I am missing pizza, but mangoes, curries, and other dishes keep cravings at bay.

- Some of the bars we went to have gone "speakeasy" since it's Ramadhan and a lot of them are supposed to be closed. Yesterday we were beckoned into a small door with a closed sign, were guided down a darkened hallway, and emerged in a large, walled courtyard with tea lights and lanterns where people were drinking at picnic tables. Very cool.

- Since it's big world news, I should say that I probably should have taken the earthquake here in West Java here more seriously. I woke up thinking someone was trying to break into my bathroom and when I realized it was just an earthquake I ended up going back to sleep. Only afterwards did I hear that all the other ETA's ran down to the lobby with the hotel staff and tried to call me multiple times to come down. Anyone who knows me has already witnessed, I am sure, how much I value sleep.

That's about it for now, but if I remember anything later I will keep posting. Anyone know how to heal jammed fingers? Only I could hurt myself on a bus door.