Wednesday, December 30, 2009

It's Christmas, It's Christmas...Wait, Why Am I Sweating?

I managed to get it posted before December ended...Yay!! I started this blog on December 15 and I have added to it several times over the past weeks, hope it makes sense!

So apparently, I am good for about one blog entry a month. I was all prepared to post pictures on Facebook, since I have failed to do so since arriving in Surabaya. Well, guess what? The internet is down—the one time I am motivated and I am foiled by the internet. Maybe I will do it tomorrow, but if I were you, I wouldn’t hold my breath. (Update: Good thing you didn’t because I definitely didn’t post any pics.) So, I decided to type a blog entry as I am still feeling some motivation to do something. I said after the last entry, I would write my firsts. Since I never did that, I will start with my firsts:

Cassandra’s Firsts:
1) First time to see a Muslim woman in a bathing suit (it covers everything).

2) First time to eat soufflé (went out to eat with my host family and we stopped for dessert and I tried soufflé, it was pretty good).

3) First time to go to a restaurant with DIY cooking (This is the restaurant my host family took me to—called Pepper Lunch. I ordered a pepper steak and it was served raw. At first I was a bit worried because I didn’t understand the concept of the restaurant, but I quickly caught on. The food is served on a hot skillet and it cooks at the table, you turn over the meat when you want and put the meat on the accompanying spouts when you are satisfied it is done. It was really good.)

4) First time teaching. (It is went well and the students seem to like me).

5) First movie in Indonesia (wrote about that in the previous blog).

6) First time I received full-on bule status (bule is the Indonesian word for foreigner and sometimes people just shout it at you, I was like a celebrity in Madura which I wrote about in the previous blog).

7) First outdoor concert (I never went to a outdoor concert in the USA, but saw one in Madura).

8) First time I ate sushi (Okay, if you know me, please pick yourself off the floor and continue reading J, I went with a friend who likes it. I ordered chicken, but she let me try several of hers and I quite like the little rolls with tuna and salmon. I don’t know if it will ever be my favorite food, but it was pretty good.)
Postscript: First time to order sushi for myself and eat it all by myself. (On another outing to the same restaurant.)

9) First time in Bali (see previous blog)

10) First time to see people make batik (see previous blog)

11) First time to buy and wear a sarong (I bought it in Bali and I think it is pretty cute)

12) First drinking game (okay, I reached the grand age of 25 before playing a drinking game. I
played with my friends in Bali, but I not sure it really counts because I was drinking Sprite, but whatever.)

13) First time in Yogyakarta (pronounced Jo-Jo-Karta, in Central Java—will write about that in a minute)

14) First time to pee on the floor. (So I took a travel car back to Surabaya from Yogyakarta. A travel car is a van type of vehicle that you can buy tickets on to travel to different cities. Anyway, we stopped at one of the travel car company’s offices and I had to use the restroom. Well, the restroom was a floor with a small hole for drainage with a basin of water. Thank the Lord that someone had mentioned this type of toilet to me a few days earlier and while I was dismayed, I was not completely surprised or stumped. I also lucked out because there was no visual residue from previous users—which apparently is quite common. So I manned up and peed on the floor—so says the girl who could not even pee in the lake. I am guessing that will no longer be a problem—mind over matter and all that.)

15) First time to visit a Chinese Buddhist temple (went to Surabaya’s Chinatown with some friends—unfortunately most things were closed, but the temple was interesting.)

16) First time to dance in front of hundreds of people (So, my hula dance performance went well. Everyone said I did a great job. Who knows, but I didn’t chicken out or forget the steps. And hundreds may be a slight exaggeration, but it was definitely over 100. There is a video of this performance, shaky but watchable. Unfortunately the internet connection is not quite enough to post video on Facebook but it will be available to those who are interested at a later date.)

17) First time to ride an economy train (Referred to as the Indian train because it resembles the memorable picture of the commuter trains from India with people hanging out doors and packed onto the roof. The train station has a fence from the roof to try and stop people from climbing onto the roof of the train—needless to say it is not that effective. However, as it was a holiday weekend, it was considerably less crowded—people generally flee the cities at every opportunity. On the way to Jakarta, we took the Economy AC with doors that shut and well-kept trains, but still no chance to seat down as I don’t think the trains are ever that empty. However, by the time we returned to Depok, the Economy AC stopped running and we took an Economy. It was not cattle-car crowded, but the doors did not shut, there were no seats available, people hawking various items, and young hoods who fell in love with my friend. Walking out of the train station we were greeted by chickens—where else?)

18) First 3-D movie (Went to see the movie Avatar in Jakarta. Really neat movie and 3-D made it more awesome!)

19) First time to live with cold water and travel primarily by public transportation (So, I am one of the few ETAs with hot water and when I visited my friend in Depok, I got to experience another lifestyle—much closer to a normal experience in Indonesia. We travel by angkot everywhere because taxis are harder to come by and it is expensive to take one to Jakarta. I freely admit to being spoiled in Surabaya. I recently joked with another ETA that I hope I didn’t use up my karma supply with my placement in such a nice house with a great family.)

20) First time away from home at Christmas (I survived and I didn't even cry--see blog for more)

So, into the regular blog entry. The U.S. Consulate in Surabaya hosted a Thanksgiving dinner at the Consulate General’s home. Several other ETAs traveled to Surabaya to attend and because I have an awesome host family, they were allowed to crash here. Altogether there were about 9 other Americans here—it changed because some stayed different nights. Everyone was very impressed with the swimming pool and hot water, not to mention the house itself. Anyway, the Thanksgiving dinner was great. There was great turkey and stuffing and even pork, which is a rarity here as Muslims do not eat it. It was a great evening and fabulous to see so many of my fellow ETAs again.

The day after Thanksgiving, a friend and I traveled by train to Yogjakarta to meet two other friends. The train ride was very nice, we traveled in the executive class, so that helped. The friend I traveled with teaches on Kalimantan—also known as Borneo. Well, her headmaster knows a travel agent in Yogja and he arranged for us to have transportation. A driver picked us up at the train station and drove us to our hotel and helped me arrange my travel accommodations back to Surabaya. Arranging the travel was a bit of a hurdle because, not only was it Thanksgiving weekend (which means nothing to Indonesians), it was Idul Adha. I do not know the history or significance of Idul Adha, I am afraid, but I do know it involves sacrificing animals—mostly goats and occasionally cows, which are more expensive.

The family I live with is fairly wealthy, so they donated a cow to the son’s school and had three goats tied up outside my room in preparation for Friday morning (the actual holiday). Maybe the goats knew their fate or just didn’t like the new surroundings, but they were loud. I made the mistake of talking to one while I waited for my friend to arrive Thursday—fortunately we left early enough on Friday that we missed the slaughter. All the schools also had a slaughter ceremony, but again I was lucky to miss mine. But one of my friend’s schools had it on Monday and she said it was not pleasant. The meat is given to those who need it, so it is a good practice, but I am quite happy to have missed that particular cultural experience.

On Saturday in Yogja, we visited the Sultan’s Palace—the town still has a sultan. I am pretty sure it is just a figurehead position. Unfortunately, the actual palace was closed because of the ceremonies associated with the holiday. We had gone because two of my friends wished to see the sacrifice associated with Idul Adha which they had been assured would happen at 9 am. We missed the actual event, but there was an awning off to the side where they were butchering two cows. I steered clear—the one glance I shot towards the awning was enough to turn my feet in the other direction.

After the Sultan’s Palace, we drove a little outside Yogja to visit the Borobudor Temple—the world’s largest Buddhist temple and a world heritage site. It was really awesome. Unfortunately, it started to rain as we were climbing down the temple and we were not able to do any more exploring, but we saw the temple and that is most important.

We tried to do some batik shopping because Yogja is famous for batik, but many places were closed for the holiday. Also, I am never sure if I am buying good, bad, or simply paying too much. Indonesians are very proud of batik and schools and businesses often have a designated day for everyone to wear batik. Our time in Yogja was too short, but it was a nice break and it was great to see friends.

Well, my trek back to Surabaya on the Sunday after Thanksgiving was quite interesting. Because there were no train tickets available and not an abundance of direct flights between Surabaya and Yogja, I was left with taking a bus or a travel car. As it was a holiday weekend, I really didn’t want to risk an overcrowded, hot bus, so I chose travel car. It costs a little more than the bus (but when you add the taxi fare from the bus stop to home, it is actually a little cheaper to go by car as it drops you at your house). It was suppose to be a six to seven hour drive. Well, that did not turn out to be the case. I was picked up at my hotel at 9:40 am and the car only picked up a few more people and I thought this is going to be a breeze, but we stopped in another city and filled up the rest of the seats. It was raining pretty much the entire way and I was super lucky (can you hear the sarcasm?) to be the last person dropped off. We hit Surabaya a little after 7 pm and I got dropped off at 9:15 pm. I was in that blasted car for almost 12 hours. I was very fortunate that there was a man traveling with his family that spoke English and I was able to talk with him a bit and figure out where we were, otherwise I may have indulged in a slight panic attack.

It is now December 23 and I am sitting on a train taking me to Jakarta. There are plugs, so I am able to use my computer for an extended period. A friend who teaches outside of Jakarta in a city called Depok came to visit me in Surabaya and now we are traveling to her place. This train is nice as well, but it goes fairly slowly and the ride is about 11 hours. It was great to have a visitor. Unfortunately, we didn’t really do anything exciting, but we had a nice time taking it easy—staying at my place is a bit like a resort for many of the other ETAs (I have hot water and a swimming pool).

A few weekends ago, my host family invited me to go to a wedding. Weddings here a bit different. The actual wedding ceremony is quite small with only close family, but afterwards there is a party for as many people as humanly possible. It is quite common for 1000s (and no that is not an extra zero) to come to the wedding party. The wedding couple stands up front and when you arrive you go greet them, as well as the parents. The bride and groom appear to stand there for the entire party. There are buffets with all different types of food, but no dancing or cake. I am sure there are some variations, but it is not quite the party atmosphere that one generally sees in America.

It is very strange to be away from home at Christmas. First, this is the first time I have not been at home and second, it is really hot here. Hot and Christmas does not mix well in my head. The malls here decorate for Christmas, so I have seen Christmas trees. I also had a great time singing Christmas songs with my students. Most of them are Muslim, but I chose non-religious songs and they love to sing. Everyone here knows “Jingle Bells,” but we had a lot of fun with “Rudolph,” too. I taught them the funny additional lines that we add to the song and everyone liked that. The week before I taught them “The Twelve Days of Christmas” which they enjoyed, too—especially the “Five Golden Rings.” I currently have a two week hiatus from teaching because they have final exams. I about fell to my knees in gratitude when I realized that the tests coincided with Christmas. It really stinks for the Christians at the school and I feel bad that they have to worry about studying on Christmas, but it really helped me. I will be back in Surabaya on December 30 because of the travel policy (I can only be away from my site for so many days). I start teaching again on January 4 and hope to have some kind of New Year’s themed lesson, but I am going to worry about that later.

For the most part I really enjoy teaching. The students are friendly, if a bit shy, and at times getting them to speak English is a little like pulling teeth. All the ETAs have different situations and mine is pretty well off, but there are times when I wish there was some kind guide to what the school would like me to teach. I am continually looking for ideas and interesting activities. I don’t think I am very effective, but I am different and hopefully something is clicking. One positive sign is my progress in getting people to answer the question "How are you?" with something other than "Fine." That is the common answer in the textbooks and absolutely everyone here is "Fine." Well, I make sure I always answer with something else and spent two weeks going over different questions that mean "How are you?"--like the infamous "How you doing?" (like Joey from "Friends")--and the many ways you can answer besides fine. Students are definitely branching out--it is encouraging. I also taught them "See you later, alligator" and "After a while, crocodile" which was very popular.

Well, I thought maybe I would get the blog posted sometime while I was visiting my friend in Depok, but there is no readily available internet here. So, I decided to just update with my Christmas activities. While Depok is close to Jakarta, it is a bit of a chore to get into the city. Unless one wants to blow lots of money on taxis, public transportation is the way to go. From my friend’s house, it takes at least three modes of transportation to get into Jakarta proper. One walks to the end of the street and grabs an angkot (or bemo or old van-type vehicle or sure-fire way to induce vertigo, whatever one calls it) to the train station. Off the train, one takes a public bus or taxi—depending on how well one knows what one is doing.

One of the ETAs’ family hosted an Indonesian exchange student a few years ago who married one of his cousins, so he has family in Jakarta. They were nice enough to invite us to their house for Christmas lunch—although they are Muslim and it was just a day off for them. Most of the family speaks English and are extremely nice. They even gave me a scarf, so I had a present to open. The mom of the household works at the Jakarta International School and she invited us to go to an open house with her. The open house was held by an American who works at the school. She is in Jakarta with her husband and two-year daughter—her husband is working on water sanitation through USAID. She had Christmas cookies which was a lovely treat. It was a nice visit and helped the day feel a little bit more like Christmas. I have had a nice holiday, but it honestly has not felt much like Christmas. I am not upset or really sad about it, but I kinda felt like I skipped Christmas this year. It does not feel like Christmas without family and I really cannot explain how important the weather is. When you have never been anyway but Indiana on Christmas, ninety degrees does not Christmas spirit make. Despite these trivial matters, it has been great to visit with friends and share American Christmas traditions with my students.

So, I have proofread the previous ramblings and I hope it is not too confusing. It is currently Tuesday, December 29 and I leave for Surabaya tomorrow. Hopefully, I will remember to get the blog posted when I get back to internet.

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