Sunday, September 13, 2009

Orientation in Bandung

So, quite a busy week. We have had a full week of language classes and teacher training. While I realize that these classes are important, I cannot say that I enjoy them. We begin at 8 am (I get up at 6 am to get ready and have breakfast and anyone who knows me realizes how unnatural that is for me), break at 12 pm for lunch, restart at 1 pm, and go again until 4 or 4:30 pm. It is all in one room for me with no windows (the room is nice, but sunlight would help to keep me awake). All together that equals monotony.

The one really interesting activity of training was a school visit on Tuesday morning. We were split into groups based on the type of school in which we will be teaching. I will be in a state high school (students compete to get into state high schools because it has little cost--private schools do not necessarily have high standards). I Googled my school and it seems like a very nice school (fingers crossed). Others will be in religious, vocational, or private schools.

I was pleasantly surprised by the school I visited. The grounds were pleasant and the people friendly. The lady that guided us though the school told us there were 1500 students with 40-45 students in about 30 classes. Generally, in Indonesia students stay in one classroom and the teachers move from class to class. Just as an interesting aside, no religion is not an option in Indonesia. Religion is a required subject in whatever religion you worship. If you happen to be a minority in your area, a teacher will be found for you (or so we were told). Secularism is a foreign concept here.

We had been warned that English teachers frequently graduate without actually speaking English. So, often English classes consist of no more than learning grammar out of a textbook. I was afraid that the students would speak no English, but in the classes we visited they did well.

The classes were shorter than normal because of Ramadan and the majority of the students and teachers were fasting. There were students practicing for the Haji (the trip to Mecca that all Muslims are called to perform if able). This is only practiced during Ramadan and is not a usual activity. I had never thought about people practicing for the Haji. When traveling it is amazing how much you come across that you had never even considered before.

Ramadan began on August 21 and ends in about a week. It is the holy month for Muslims and is a time of fasting. (Ramadan falls at a different time every year as it is celebrated on the original Muslim calendar, not the modern calendar.) The celebration at the end of Ramadan is the equivalent in many ways to Christmas. Ramadan has not really affected us too much because we are not expected to fast. It is considered impolite to consume food or drink in public, but we are in the hotel were it doesn't matter as much. Restaurants will cover windows to be polite. Muslims eat and drink before sunrise and then break their fast at sunset. On Thursday evening, AMINEF arranged for us to celebrate the end of the daily fast with a speaker and buffet. The speaker was an extremely interesting Indonesian woman who just returned a few months ago from teaching in the States on a Fulbright grant (the Fulbright has many different programs). She discussed the purpose of Ramadan--people fast to understand the plight of the poor and have empathy for those who are hungry--and her experience as a Muslim woman.

On Saturday we visited Suang Angklung Udjo--a foundation that provides musical training and gives performances of traditional Javanese music and dance. Part of the show consists in teaching the audience how to play the angklung--a traditional instrument made of bamboo. It was a lot of fun.

Bandang is a nice city but there are many things that take some getting used to: the smell and lack of crosswalks are right at the top of my list. Motorcycles are everywhere and are often the family vehicle. Today I saw one with a dad, mom, toddler, and baby. (And just to be clear, these are not large bikes, mostly mopeds). Driving around (even as a passenger) is nerve-wrecking as cars, people, buses, and bikes swarm everywhere. Distance between cars is non-existent and the most aggressive wins.

Now to the featured part of my blog: Cassandra's Firsts
First time to eat grilled rice (I didn't like it because it had coconut and I am not a fan); first time to try durian (previously mentioned in the blog, it is a very pungent fruit--I gagged, no more need to be said); first time to eat a mangostein (we learned about this fruit in language class and our teacher kindly brought some in for us to try--not related to mango, taste reminded me of a peach although it looked very different); first time to sing a song in Indonesian (called Lupa-lupa Ingat, its an extremely catchy song about forgetting lyrics but remembering the chords--here is a link to the YouTube video http://http// --it is a fun song, but as a heads up, the band's look is best described as a funky Kiss--our language teacher told us that to be famous you need to be beautiful or crazy, you can see which one they chose); first time to try Hookah (never did it in the States--it was okay); first time to play an angklung (fun!). Since my blog is a day late, I can add two more things from today. I tried snake fruit (so called because of its scaly peel, once you start to chew the taste is fine, but I can't overcome the initial waxy texture of the fruit). Finally, first time at a coffee tasting (I do not drink coffee, but some of us had been invited by one of the hotel employees to a local Starbucks where a friend worked--I tried the two coffees offered, but I was not converted to the coffee drinker club).

Well, that's all for now. Wish me luck with another week of training.

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