Sunday, October 31, 2010

Does the costume make the man?

It is Halloween night.  In the United States children are preparing for trick or treating that won't commence for hours.  The final candy is being bought, the finishing touches being put on bars, restaurants and haunted houses about the cities. Here?  It's a quiet Sunday evening after the last call to prayer. Most folks are home with family, perhaps dreading the eventual Monday return to work.

I am left reflecting on the events of the weekend and the holiday.  By most measures it was a big Halloween for me.  As you hopefully read in a previous blog, I'm not much for dressing up.  That being said, I was convinced to do so this year.  A friend and I hit a new bar on Friday night.  Being that we were the only two people crazy enough to be in costume, we won the costume prize. The bottle of moscato is in my cupboard.  I was happy to see my first jack o'lantern of the year and felt good about my costume.
he's so cute! 
Not bad, and comfortable to wear.  No paint necessary.
I skated through on one costume for two nights. Donna had two completely different looks; a pirate on Friday and a cyber punk on Saturday. As expected, the bars were full of people, especially women, using the holiday as an excuse to reveal a skanky dressed side of themselves. Night one included a vampire, a nurse and a devil all in unbelievably short dresses and all Indonesian. Night two included Poison Ivy from batman in short shorts, a dominatrix (in pants but tight clothing), Amy Winehouse, Snookie from Jersey shore, a strange orange and yellow thing that involved short shorts and skin, a girl dressed in a short white dress and wig, black cat in skin tight black and numerous others at the bar. I will give a hand to the creativity of cyber punk, Papa Smurf, the Chilean miner and Cruela Devile.
Cyber punk!

Chilean Miner

Cruela Deville
I was asked more than once what my costume was.  A friend made a great guess via facebook today of Lois Lane.  I should have said that was it.  One friend said, "Oh a reporter? don't you mean a sexy reporter?  It's Halloween, whatever you are, you are a sexy that."  Ahhh no.  Not wanting to be a buzz kill I didn't go into my line of thought about the sexing up of Halloween.

There were several, more than several, guys dressed as women.  I often wonder if they're trying out cross dressing, giving way to an urge that stays hidden the other 364 days of the year or if they do it just because it's easy to find the parts for the costume. Do our decisions for costumes say something about us? Is it a peek into our subconscious?  That I prefer to be comfortable in a costume that has sloppy built into the idea? That I am rebelling against the sexing of Halloween? That I don't like my thighs and therefore will not wear a ridiculously short skirt?

When I would stay home and pass out candy from my mom's house in Seattle, we would often keep a tally; how many princesses, how many ninjas.  I figured most parents knew what their child is doing and hopefully helped them choose a costume.  Even as kids turn into teens, I would continue to hope that parents are involved in the Halloween plans and processes for their kids. A unique example?  A friend works at a large international school here told me about a student of hers. The student was given 300,000Rp to buy a costume. On Friday morning the child (13 yo) got into the car to go to school in full Nazi regalia. The father complained and rightfully so.  By the time the kid got out of the car at school he had changed his costume.  He was Jesus. Jesus! Hitler one minute, Jesus the next. I can't be the only one shaking my head.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pray for Indonesia

It's been an eventful week here in Indonesia.

If I see one more person put "pray for Indonesia" as their facebook or blackberry status I might flip.  This is the most populous Muslim country in the world, with millions of people praying five times a day.  If their prayers have not warded off the "wrath of a vengeful god" (which is who prayers are directed to) then is my one half-hearted, unbelieving prayer going to tip the scales? And don't tell me who to believe in or what to pray about anyway! Enough with the rant, onto the real info.

Indonesia is located on the Ring of Fire.  I learned a lot about this in school because Seattle is on the Ring as well, though a much less active part.  Any country on the Ring of Fire is apt to encounter earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.  It happens with the tectonic plate their location on shifts with or against the huge pacific plate. Other major locations on the Ring of Fire?  Japan, California.  All sites of huge earthquakes this century.  The Mount St. Helen's eruption in Oregon that sent ash as far away as Russia?  Great Alaskan quake of '64?  On the Ring of Fire too. I haven't felt one earthquake here which might be because I didn't feel them at home often either.  I've become desensitize to them.
courtesy of  Indonesia is over on the left, near Australia.
When I first arrived in Jakarta I received emails from family and friends frequently asking if I was ok. They'd seen there was an earthquake in Indonesia.  Indonesia is made up of more that 17,000 islands with nearly 2 mil square kilometers, but stretching over 5,000 km in length from the most eastern to western. If there's an earthquake on Sulawesi its not felt in Jakarta usually.  There are literally earthquakes daily here.   Last week there was an earthquake just off the coast of Sumatra, the big island to the west of Java. Notice of the earthquake was disseminated fairly quickly.  I even got a text message from a friend giving me heads up of a tsunami warning after the 7.7 quake. I slept through it. Now the news is known round the world.  The islands of Metawi and North Pagai have been devastated. They were hit by a three meter wave just five minutes after the quake.  Surfing and fishing boats sunk or exploded. As of this moment, the official death toll is 343 with hundreds presumed to have been swept out to sea among the missing.

If that weren't enough for cash strapped and infrastructure crippled Indonesia, there is also a volcanic eruption happening near Yogyakarta in central Java. Mount Merapi is a known active volcano.  I was near it in September for holiday.  The hot ash and gas has killed 33 and the count is growing. The hillsides of the mountain are populated by farmers who know the mountain soil is fertile. Many are refusing to leave their belongings, their land but the ash is raining down more than five miles away now.
courtesy of

courtesy of
Yesterday afternoon in our school staffroom we got to talking about the news coverage of the events.  I began to wonder if this, any of this, would be covered in the US press if it wasn't all happening at the same time.  A co-worker asked "When was the last time you saw anything about Guam, Samoa, the Marshall Islands or Puerto Rico in The American news?". I marveled at the massive flooding in Benin that was barely covered on the BBC website, lord knows I wouldn't find it on any American sites. It reminds me how insular the United States is and how we as individuals must fight to be informed about anything else.  I admit, the US is big and it can be a bit of a task just to stay informed on things within the US. When most people rely on the TV for their news and the TV only covers news outside the area if it has spectacular imagery (i.e. volcanic explosions), I doubt people have the interest or energy to look at BBC, Christian Science Monitor, AP, Reuters or any other source to find out about Albania or Laos.

I was asked by a new class of business students why I am in Indonesia.  Part of my answer was that no one comes here, it's largely unknown by Westerners or maybe specifically Americans. I feel an obligation to tell people about Indonesia; the people, cultures, customs, Islam, etc. My experience here will be unlike any other I can have. Sometimes good, often trying but always different. If I can teach people a little something, even the ability to find Indonesia on a map, and I will consider my mission accomplished.

For more information please see:


I believe that there are two types of people when it comes to Halloween and it's genetic.  Either you have the "dress up gene" or you don't.  My good friend Donna would probably quite happily dress up every day of the year given time and resources are available.  I,  on the other hand, can hardly be bothered.  I have other things I'd rather get to with both my limited time and money. In my six months at EF in Pluit there was a "fancy dress" (as the Brits call it, which still makes me think Oscar attire not Halloween attire).  the three weeks prior I mentioned once that I MIGHT try to get something together and then promptly gave in to my real self and announced I would be costumeless.  It was a super heros and super villans party.  It consisted of lots of underwear outside of pants and towel capes. After weeks of explaining that costuming isn't my thing, everyone was still shocked that I walked out into the party (it was at the house where I lived) WITHOUT a costume.
 This year I have been nudged into participating this year.  I have Donna who helped guide my costume search. We even found a way to make costumes suited for me.  Rules: 1) nothing sexy and smutty and cliche.  No sexy nurse, sexy witch, sexy vampire etc. 2) it must be comfortable 3) no need for expensive make up or paint.  DONE!  and not just one but two costumes.  Plan A is a sherpa/mountain lady  (photos will follow and hopefully help alleviate the confusion you must be feeling), Plan B a 1950's deadline rushed reporter.  Did I have second thoughts about not using Halloween to show as much skin as possible? Yeah, it crossed my mind for a minute that when we go out to the bars tomorrow night I will almost definitely be the only girl in costume without her boobs out. Being different is a good thing though. . . .right?
roll your tongue up, put it back in your mouth and carry on boys!

I'll let you know how Halloween turns out.  I'd love comments on what you're dressing up as, what you're plans are or after the fact, how it all panned out.

As a final note, if you are interested in everything Halloween, check out  !
How stuff works has a great website and an even better line of podcasts.  I should be getting paid for this endorsement!  I like "stuff mom never told you", "stuff you should know" and my favorite is  "stuff you missed in history class". I'm test driving "stuff they don't want you to know" a video podcast this week.

And lastly as a fun reminder, here are some Halloween rules. I didn't think of them, but I laughed all the same.

1. When it appears that you have killed the monster, NEVER check to see if it's really dead.

2. Never read a book of demon summoning aloud, even as a joke.

3. Do not search the basement, especially if the power has gone out.

4. If your children speak to you in Latin or any other language which they should not know, shoot them immediately. It will save you a lot of grief in the long run. However, it will probably take several rounds to kill them, so be prepared. This also applies to kids who speak with somebody else's voice.

5. When you have the benefit of numbers, NEVER pair offand go it alone.

6. As a general rule, don't solve puzzles that open portals to Hell.

7. Never stand in, on, or above a grave, tomb, or crypt. This would apply to any other house of the dead as well.

8. If you're searching for something which caused a loud noise and find out that it's just the cat, GET THE HELL OUT!

9. If appliances start operating by themselves, do not check for short circuits; just get out!

10. Do not take ANYTHING from the dead.

11. If you find a town which looks deserted, there's probably a good reason for it. Don't stop and look around.

12. Don't fool with recombinant DNA technology unless you're sure you know what you're doing.

13. If you're running from the monster, expect to trip or fall down at least twice. Also note that, despite the
fact that you are running and the monster is merely shambling along, it's still moving fast enough to catch up
with you.

14. If your companions suddenly begin to exhibit uncharacteristic behavior such as hissing, fascination for
blood, glowing eyes, increasing hairiness, and so on, kill them immediately.

15. Stay away from certain geographical locations, some of which are listed here: Amityville, Elm Street, Transylvania, Nilbog (you're in trouble if you recognize this one), the Bermuda Triangle, or any small town in Maine (or Alabama).

16. If your car runs out of gas at night on a lonely road,do not go to the nearby deserted looking house to phone for help. If you think that it is strange because you thought you had half of a tank, shoot yourself instead. You are going to die anyway, and most likely be eaten.

17. If you find that your house is built upon a cemetery, now is the time to move in with the in-laws. This applies to houses that had previous inhabitants who went mad or died in some horrible fashion, or had inhabitants who performed satanic practices in your house.

Monday, October 25, 2010

too much?

I usually write more topically, and I had all the best intentions yesterday to write but life got the better of me.  Today I have slid down the scale to a rant.

I started the week relieved that at school I'd wrapped up a project.  For each of my four classes we'd spent the better part of two weeks working on a United States unit.  I had prepped 2-3 pages each for 15 states, each student choosing one state.  They had to make a mind map and rough draft after reviewing parts of a paragraph. Then a final written that could be used for their presentation.  They each got a written score and a speaking score which had to be given back to them and entered into the computer.  I was happy I'd finished it all before our 3 day mid-semester break. I could lounge in Bali guilt and worry free. 

Now the sh** is hitting the proverbial fan.  The teaching staff has realized with holidays and deadlines, we really only have about 24 days left.  We aren't off until the 22nd of December but grades are obviously due before then.  We're losing two consecutive Wednesdays to an Indonesian and a school holiday. The way our schedules work that means that the Tuesdays are blow off days because we can't have one group get ahead of the other.  This week I'm running 2 unit tests and trying to get a mini speaking assessment in.  It's week one of 3 consecutive weeks of 5 days of class.  I know I shouldn't be complaining but it does feel long after so many holidays. The students are manic, and I've lost my voice to a ruddy decibel that it isn't recovering over the weekend. 

Today I've also been asked to cover a business class at night last minute. I can use the money but I could also use the 3 hours. I'm debating my grocery trip today because I need food but don't know if I have time. Tomorrow is a new client meeting for a new business where I'll be teaching every other week.  I've got a throbbing headache that's settled behind my right eye and won't budge.  It is all following yesterday's 2 hour trip home.  I've not seen rain like yesterday's in my time here.  We had a flat tire and 2 detours due to flooded roadways. I had to help pull the water out of a hole in the asphalt that dropped the bike out from under me.  I didn't fall but was standing before I knew what happened. We drove through water nearly knee deep. I split the seam for the second time in my sexy plastic rain pants and had to throw them out.  I ended up soaked all the way through, top to bottom. My trip to the grocery store went by the way side and after 15 minutes to partially disrobe in the hallway, I ate dinner and was asleep by 8.  Ahhh, in bed early.  Oh what's that?  4 am call to prayer?  No problem, that happens daily.  Wait, whaat?  An hour and 20 minutes of call to prayer not the normal 15?  Now that's new. 

I'm actually considering going to the doctor.  My lagging energy levels have continued as well as some serious stomach/diarrhea issues.  Parasites? Virus? The Plague?  It would mean I'd actually have to find the time.  And its just started raining. . . .
courtesy of

Sunday, October 24, 2010

BALI!! (need I say more?)

If I needn't then this would be my shortest blog ever!  I've gotten a bit lazy about writing since I have been  on holiday and subsequently crippled.  I hope to rememdy this over the next couple days.
I went to Bali. After ten months in Indonesia I finally made it.  Most people here are stunned that it took me so long. I've then got to explain that I was working in hell, but with worse management, where I had no hardly any time off and even less money with which to buy tickets. I get an "ooohhhh" and an eye roll but I know the truth. So does anyone else who has worked at EF.  'Nuff said.

I was fighting a virus but I went anyway because my soul would have needed hospitalization if I canceled now.  Yes, it was everything I hoped it would be.  There was sun, there was beach, there were lots of other white folk (bule in Indonesian).   The flight was slightly delayed when we (a friend and I went together) left. We arrived in Bali and had to walk across the tarmac to the airport.  Just as we reached the building the sky opened and poured a bucket of rain on Bali.  A bit of an ominous start. This was torrential Jakarta style rain, just the stuff I thought I'd be escaping. We made it to the hotel and grabbed a ridiculously cheap drink across the street.  For the first time in my life, the bar tended looked at me and said. " If it's not strong enough, let me know and I'll add more tequila", I had ordered a margarita.  Go figure, it was a little weak.  He added an entire extra shot and half a shot of triple sec.  He looked like he couldn't have been more than 16 but he was my new favorite person in Bali.

Our hotel offered the option of breakfast in the room or by the pool.  Being that I'm not independently wealthy I figured it might be the only time I could "take breakfast at the pool".   Banana pancakes and fresh fruit were my morning staple for the entire trip.
We spent plenty of time at the pool too, you can see why.

The weekend was filled with eating, shopping and lounging.  Why don't I live in Bali!?!  Probably because I couldn't be productive other than to surf and learn to scuba and the like.    Bali also provided me an opportunity for culture shock, something that happens often in Indonesia but not quite like this.  We went out on Saturday night to a couple of clubs that are well know for cheap drinks, loud music and partying.  I thought it'd be like the clubs in Jakarta.  Boy was I wrong.  Nearly all the people there were foreigners, a large number of them Australian exhibiting what my friend termed "feral Aussie behavior".  They were on football end of season trips and celebrating youth/freedom/alcohol/etc.  I think there was a thump when my chin hit the floor.  Shirtless, shoeless, falling down drunk, smashing about. . .Was this what bars in Australia were like?  My friend assured me they weren't.  It's Asia's answer to Ibiza or Benidorm.  It is so close and cheap that this is where Aussie's go to blow off some temporary insanity.  I wish I could fully transmit the situation to you, but even photos wouldn't help.  I can't say I've ever seen anything quite like it, though I'm not complaining.  It was nice to be surrounded by fellow foreigners.

Skip to my last day in Bali. I woke up at 06:30 even though this was my vacation to go surfing.  I met a local who had a "surf shop" on the beach.  It's really just a collection of a dozen boards.  He teaches surfing, just like all the guys with all the boards lined up on the beach.
The boards are all lined up vertically by the trees on the left.

After a 45 minute walk down the beach to warm  up, we had a 10 minute lesson on the sand and then hit the water.  It was a dreadful start.  I spent lots of time plunging headfirst back into the water.  After 3 hours, I managed several rides into shore. Maybe the best 150,000Rp I spent there.  I was tired but happy.  I checked out of my hotel.  After two fantastic tacos, I made my way to the airport to say "so long" to Bali.  By the time I got home, I was physically paying for the surfing.  I spent the next 4 days hobbling around like a 95 year old due for a hip or knee replacement.  My trunk, abs and back, were sorer than ever.  I'm finally, 5 days later, barely sore and committed to surfing again.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Where's my mommy? I'm sick!

I'm firmly convinced that one of the worst sensations is being sick away from home or being sick alone.  I'm in my late 20's now and nothing makes me want to be in my mom's house with her as company more than being sick.
Courtesy of
Last year I decided to stay in Spain for Christmas.  I thought it would be nice to experience how they celebrate.  It was fine until I got a horrible flu two days before Christmas.  I was home alone, miserable in bed.  Most of the city and my friends had left for their homes days before.  I felt like an island, cliche but true. After three days inside, I had to get out just to get some popsicles and fresh air.  I made a full recovery a day or so after than only to get a whopping chase of food poisioning.  I was on the phone to my mom, once again wishing I was there. As a child she was the best for a kid with a flu.  Cold wash rag on your forehead, popsicles or ice chips, soup, the tv remote and a soft, safe voice asking if you needed anything and reminding you that you'd feel better soon.

Now that I've been traveling for several years, I've gotten sick a LOT away from home.  Last month I struggled to get myself to the clinic to find out I had a throat infection.  Ojek's aren't nearly as much fun with a screaming headache on the way to the doctor.  Then again, neither are subway rides.  I've also gotten a lot of different kinds of sick as one could imagine. In Indonesia, food poisoning is more common than the common cold.

Lately there's been a spate of viruses flying about my school.  A teacher was out last week with what is presumed to be Dengue fever ( There are at least 2 other strains of virus causing everything from headaches and diarrhea to rash, exhaustion and fever. A couple of guys at work were out 3 or 4 days last week after becoming very rapidly ill.  I'm fighting something different.  It's a kind of "ill" I've not experienced before.  I am lethargic, like I can never sleep enough.  Even after 7 or 8 hours sleep, I am struggling to get up and peel myself out of bed in the morning.  My back muscles are more sore than they've ever been before. I'm getting headaches most days and I have these strange tiny pink, blue and purple veins which are quite visible on my legs.  They just popped up two days ago.  I don't know what it is; a friend suggested low grade Dengue.  Since it started two weeks ago I've had other symptoms that show up for a couple days and then leave.  I don't know what it is but I wish it would go away. Here's hoping several days of lounging on the beach and sleeping in will do the trick.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Social Service Society

From the back of my ojek on the way to work I gape at Kramat Jati Pasar.  It's a traditional market with tables of fresh fish and dead raw chickens lying about. There are shellfish and hunks of red meat, a few veggie vendors and back, away from the road some folks who have permanent shops that sell lots of stuff. By 06:30 they are already closing up, it starts that early to avoid the sun and heat. Every morning I also see the daily (not weekly) trash collection. Most of the trash is organic-corn husks, cucumbers, fish heads, with plastic mixed in. It's not with two guys and a mechanized truck like near my home in the States. This is one or two guys with a wood and metal two-wheeled car, about 3 feet wide by 5 feet long and 3 feet high.  They use two pieces of wood to scoop up the trash which was swept into a pile, and move it to the cart.  The carts are then pushed/pulled to a much bigger truck where the trash is moved again, by hand. Alternately, they can use a round cane basket that is usually carried on the back. Those are also taken to the big truck and emptied. The smell is awful, the work is disgusting and never ending. It's very labor intensive.
Courtesy of This look exactly like many of the men I mentioned.  There are often not the bags you see, just a heap of trash.

I've spent time wondering why they don't mechanize the way we (the US) has, aside from the obvious cost. I've come to realize that it's the same reason as for other professions; for the garbage men, the maids, the doorman, the store attendants, the offices that have secretaries, copiers and janitors all in to service an office of 5. Jakarta has a population roughly estimated between 13 and 21 million. If Jakarta were to employ people in a more efficient way and obtain more machines to help with the work, half the city would be unemployed. It took me months to get used to having a maid at the EF house in Pluit.  Since I was old enough, my parents stressed the need to clean up after myself.  After many years and thousands of repetitions to "put that away" or "take that to the kitchen", it did finally sink in mom.  It made walking away from my two dirty dishes in the sink feel awkward.

I supposed the rationale I tell myself, as others probably do too, is that it provides a better life than they'd have otherwise. Many of the nanny's are young females with probably little or no education or other training. They often live with the family.  The garbage collectors have a consistent job with consistent pay, more than say a fishmonger might be able to boast. The maids are often girls/women from the countryside who send some of the money home to family.  In a societal structure such as Jakarta's, it seems all the 'help' might be in need of some.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Is life a matter of luck?

If you've met me you're probably heard about my luck.  I say in honesty and with humor that if it weren't for bad luck I'd have no luck at all. Take a breath before we move on.  You might fall into group A: those who think I'm a horrible pessimist and immediately try to convince me otherwise. Group B are those folks who just flat out don't believe I have bad luck.

"Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect" -Ralph Waldo Emerson

I to refer to my luck with tongue planted firmly in cheek. I use the work 'luck' to refer to the huge number of bizarre things that tend to happen to me than I also don't particularly see happening to others. A great example from two weeks ago was a taxi ride.  I'd jumped in the taxi about 12 seconds before it started raining.  That meant my normally 8 minute taxi ride was 20, still not bad and only about 20,000Rp. In that twenty minutes the taxi I was in was hit not once but twice.  Once hit in the rear driver side door and then again from behind.  They were fairly minor, the bus causing a bit of damage to the car.  The taxi driver and I had a good laugh about it, lots of "really?" and head shaking. It adds to the story of my life with question marks and exclamation points.

Maybe what I call luck is what others call fate.  To find someone (i.e. boyfriend, girlfriend) it has to be the right person AND the right time. I prefer to think of it as luck rather than fate since fate sounds like I no longer have a choice in the matter, like it's been decided already. Are the ideas, at least my versions, really so different?  Don't we all sort of make our own definitions of fate and luck, and decide how much we give credence to any of it?

I'm not a pessimist.  I'm a realist.  If there is 'luck' then I'm definitely not blessed with it (I chuckle as I write this).  My nickname in Spain with 'death' and I was deemed to have a bad luck angel, or BLA, that follows me.  I've been trying to reconcile this recently with the giant abacus idea.  I use this as opposed to karma because it's a less religious idea.   If there is a giant abacus, then is there a point when the minuses, the bad luck adds up on one side and there must be a showering of good luck to even things out, right? Life is about balance. too many lions and all the deer disappear.  Too many deer  and the grass disappears.  Too much bad luck and Melissa goes crazy?  If there is an abacus, then I'm wracking up lots of bad now for the good later.  In this vein I wonder if there is often a much faster trade of good for bad luck.  I had my phone stolen last Friday, but had a fantastic weekend with new people.  Maybe it was one for the other.  

AGAIN, I'm not serious about this, don't lecture me about being negative because I'm not.  Its more of a fun theoretical/mental exercise.

P.S. Bad luck?  I thought I had ants in my room and one bit me.  I realized they are actually baby scorpions and I got stung. "LUCKY" for me their tiny!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

To live abroad (not "to live as a broad")

When a person decides to live the kind of nomad life that I have, it comes with conventions that are not necessarily conventional.  Among them:

·         ***Long plane rides suck, but can be endured.  Learn your process for getting through security easily without setting off the metal detectors. Learn to pick the security line without children or the elderly in it. Pack your checked bags within an ounce of your allowance but try to keep your carry-on light with only the necessities. Take sleeping pills, ear plugs, an eye shade and always have a sweatshirt and scarf (I don’t care how hot it is where you are or where you’re going). Suck it up and pay the outrageous sum they’re charging for a beverage in the airport because you’ll want it before they serve it on the plane and it’ll only cost more on the plane.  Dehydration will hurt you as the jet lag sets in. Learn to look for electrical outlets and chairs without armrests at airports.

·         ***Know that the majority of people (at least Americans) will never understand how you live.  I just missed my ten year high school reunion.  I’m not sure how much I would have had to talk about with anyone.  They are, for the most part, married house owners. As a friend in Madrid explained, by living abroad you have crossed a line that can’t be uncrossed.  You will see things, understand things, make comparisons about things that people who’ve never lived “away” won’t. It doesn’t make one group better or worse, more or less intelligent.  It’s just such a life changing eye-opening experience that it will change you and your outlook forever.  It’s important to understand this if/when you move back to the States.  When I was home from September to December of 2009, I had to fight the urge to start every other sentence with “In Spain. . . .” or “it’s not like this. . . .”  I didn’t want people to think I was rubbing it in, I just couldn’t help it; everything old was new again in my eyes of comparison. I don’t compare to be snobby, I compare because my world was somewhere else.

·         ***People leave, often. We are a transient group, speaking specifically of English teachers, but also those committed to living abroad. There is always a contingent of folks who have signed on for one year away and then, come hell or high water, they’re going home, period. Teachers in Indonesia seem to be prone to fall into this group. I don’t know if they all have something interesting and exciting they’re going back to.  Maybe it’s a fear of being away too long.  Perhaps it a significant other. Just a year feels like they are trying to pad their “life resume”, the one we can recall when we’re old, that shows all the great things we did.  I’ve given this ‘life resume’ a lot of thought. More on that in another blog.
                Anyhow, it seems that about the time you’ve sorted out a solid group of people who can tolerate each other and share a meal, between twelve and sixty-three percent of the group leaves. My current group was decimated over about two months but we’re rebuilding. EF teachers leave on a rolling basis, so there is always someone going. This means life here is as full of going away parties as birthday parties. My advice is to walk the line.  Don’t get to distraught but equally, don’t withdraw from meeting people simply because they might leave.  We all leave one way or another; no one can escape the big exit, so make the most of it while you can.  And in case you didn’t know, there’s this amazing thing called the internet.  It keeps me connected individually, as well as collectively here, to people half the world away.

·         ***On that note, if you are going to be moving regularly, you need to be outgoing as a matter of survival.  The first three to five months in any new city are a challenge.  You don’t know anyone, anywhere, any thing and home seems a zillion miles away.  Super, utter loneliness can creep in without a whisper or a shadow. Force yourself to say hello, find or make events, and build a group.  Often one only needs a ‘door opener’, that person who pulls you into their already built group, this happened for me here in Jakarta.  Other times, like in Madrid, I built a group for all kinds of people I met.  The common thread being they knew me and I invited them out.  Man I miss book swap.* Look on expat blogs, local activity calendars, meet up groups, go to pub quiz nights, anything to go get involved.  The only must is you must get out of your room before you make yourself crazy.
·         You should realize that more things fall into place last minute than you might think.  I was always a planner, maybe bordering on obsessively so. Since moving abroad I noticed that I no longer demand a plan of attack.  I can say “well . . .something will come up” if I need work. I can fly out on vacation and just scrape the plan for sightseeing and lodging together as I go.  The more you travel the more you can trust your own ability to think on your feet and scramble for a working scenario. 

      *** Thinking before you buy saves money and heartache.  I believe any of my friends reading this from abroad will know that any time you move, you end up leaving lots behind.  Lots of stuff.  We each have an allotment for air travel.  The problem lies in living in a place where there are shops.  Everyone buys something.  Thinking ahead to what you will wear out, what you’ll get tired of and what you might actually want to take with you when you go are important steps in the buying process.  If I can only take 100 pounds with me after two years here, what will I take? Will this new shirt make the cut?  Do I plan to wear it out before I go?  It is worth the cost to use it while I can and leave it behind?  Can I sell it second hand? Will I have a trip home before I leave this place to take things home? Lastly, how much will it cost to ship it if I must have it?  All of these weigh on me as I assess the possibility of a microwave or hot plate in my future.

*Book swap was my creation though someone must have thought it up before me.  English language books in Madrid can get expensive.  Many of my friends and I were avid readers so this posed a problem.  Solution? Read a book, if you don’t have your heart set on keeping it, bring it to the once monthly book swap.  Everyone puts their books on the table and takes other.  You can ask the bringer or any previous readers about it. After you read it you can bring it back to swap again.  If a book isn’t chosen for two swap meetings it goes to the used book store for trade or credit. Some months we were four, our biggest meeting was twenty-one. Lots of topical variety, good conversation and an excuse to drink coffee while really saving money we’d be spending on books; how could you complain?!? Between book swap and loads of time on the subway, I chugged through more books in two years in Madrid than the previous five years in the US.  The Indonesian equivalent so far  has been dvd swap as pirated copies of tv shows and movies are dirt cheap here and tend to pile up.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Winter in the Tropics

I’ve found a way to bring winter to Jakarta.  It helps that it’s now the rainy season. It rains, strike that, it pours most afternoons, often for interminable hours.  I quite enjoy it if I am inside because it makes the sky gray and dark, more like winter in Seattle.  The clouds tend to sit really low in the trees around my school.  I like the winter feeling it portends right up until I have to get on the motorbike in my plastic suit (refer to previous blog “When it rains, it pours” for more on ojeks, rain and plastic suit). It doesn’t get cold-cold, but it’s much cooler. It’s more a change in my mentality; it’s not sunny therefore it’s cold. If there’s no rain then it’s still hot, last week we had a couple of scorching days. 

In addition to my mental state, I’ve brought the cold to my physical world. After work when I get home, I turn the air conditioning to cool my room while putting things away and eating dinner.  After which I proceed to take a cold shower (this is not by choice). Next I hop into my sweats.  My “buy of the week” last weekend was an over-sized gray hooded sweatshirt, American style. I’ve been in it three of the past five days. I bought it at a second hand shop, with thanks to a fantastic shopping partner. It’s still so thick and fluffy it’s hard to believe it’s not new. I suppose it’s a step up from my “buy of the week” last week- a splurge for celery and cottage cheese.  You laugh but they’re not easy items to find here and much more expensive than at home.  Before you go speculate, I did not eat them together. 
courtesy of  Mine looks just like this, without those logos.

 Growing up I was never a snow bunny, or even a particular fan of the cold.  My sister joined ski club in junior high.  As far as I know, she’s gotten ski passes ever since.  Beyond not being much a skier, I could never rationalize the cost for a chair lift, gas, food, gear, etc, etc. I’d tell my friends that in my family my dad and I were the sun worshippers (I still think the Egyptians may have been on to something) while my mom and sister were the snow fans.  While I do love a beautiful sunny day, and I currently miss tanning at the pool, I have become conscious of how I enjoy the change of seasons.  It threw me for a loop when I first arrived in January. I went from cold weather and short days to 12 hours of sunlight, with heat and humidity. It wasn’t until about May or so that I wasn’t sweltering.  In the first several months I thought I was a fool for bringing jeans, now I’m in them several days a week. Aside from the rain, the days are always about 12 hours long.  When I get on the ojek at 06:00 its light but the sun isn’t up yet. It gets dark about 18:00, rain aside.
As people mention the change of season, temperature and wardrobe in their facebook statuses, I sigh longing for my boots, scarves and sweaters.  In the meantime, I’m making my own autumn and looking forward to December and January back in Seattle. La NiƱa means we might even have snow!  Three weeks should be plenty for me to get tired of it and head back “home”.

An associated point-
One more point before I wrap this one up, it dovetails with the end of the previous paragraph.  When I meet other expatriates there is a point not far into the first conversation when details about place of origin surface. The concept of HOME is close to home for me.  It was interesting in Spain when I had to regularly explain the difference between ‘house’ and ‘home’ to my students as there is only one word- casa which is literally house-in Spanish that suffices for both in English. I tell people I’m ‘from’ Seattle; I was born and raised there.  Seattle is also still HOME.  My family lives there, it’s my permanent mailing address for important correspondence, it’s the place I go back to, not just go to.  As of now, I haven’t lived there more than four months in six years. My mother is nice enough to let me store some stuff there, stuff I’ve been trying to whittle down each consecutive trip HOME. It’s a city I can still navigate in a car.  I haven’t owned a car in over three years so that might be a feat. Seattle is a place full of memories and security, of fantastic locations, friendly people and variety.  Seattle is a place I talk up to anyone who will listen.  I have never heard a story from another traveler about how they hated Seattle; everyone likes it or if they haven’t been, they want to go. For this year and another Christmas, I am looking forward to being home, with family and my Seattle. 

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

SATC reviewed

I just finished the last episode of the last season of Sex and the City.
Sex and the City: The Complete First Season   I was cajoled into watching it by a friend. I'd never watched it when it was on HBO in the 90's. For some reason I though there would be more than six seasons.  It seems like if a show is popular now, they run it until it runs out, after about a dozen seasons.  It was explained to me that the four main characters (as most of you have probably seen it you'll have to stick with me for a minute) Miranda, Carrie, Samantha and Charlotte are four different personalities.  In theory all women are supposed to be represented by a mix of the four. Before I started watching, this friend told me I was Carrie.  I took slight offense.  I am not a SJP fan, never have been. She's like Nicolas Cage for me, if I watch something it's in spite of him not because he's in it. After 96 episodes (I think), I've been thoroughly convinced I am Carrie with a good measure of Miranda thrown in. I am questioning, pondering, looking and sarcastic nearing snarky.  I see very little of Charlotte in me. Samantha?  Well, I think most of us want to be a little more Samantha but we haven't got the guts.

There are two side to the SATC review for me.  Heads: it makes a point of showing lots of different issues: gays, cancer, familial obligation, trouble conceiving/adoption,  etc. The show demonstrates a lot of the issues and different reactions women have to those issues.  People fight, life isn't always great, we pull together and move on. I did see some very true "observations" in the show.  Alternately, I wasn't thrilled with the all's well that ends well ending.  Everyone had someone, most had what they wanted all along and it wrapped up in a nice little box.  Now I know it's TV.  Don't lecture me about it being a fictional media.  It just seems to me that after going too far to try are represent topics that often get glossed over, they did the show a disservice by ending it with everyone with someone.  Can we, as a society, or as women, not acknowledge or accept that maybe we won't find someone?  Maybe we'll only find that someone when we're 40?  Maybe it wont be at all like we imagined.  I found it absolutely incredulous that Carrie and Big ended up together.  It could be that someone's life ended up that way, but I think reality tells us most people's wouldn't.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Another batch of observations and realizations


It's now October.  I realized on my way to work Friday that it was the first. I've heard an old wives tale that if the first words out of your mouth on the first day of the month are "rabbit, rabbit" then you'll have good luck.  I chuckle to think about this.  I have managed a couple times over the years to say it but didn't notice a perceptible change in luck.  This month it did get me started thinking where that tale comes from.  I think I've sorted it.  It was a morning, the first of a month, back in the days of hunter-gatherer societies.  a woman wakes up as her husband is setting off to find some food for the day.  She's just opened her eyes when behind her husband she sees a rabbit go zinging by. Thinking she'll save him some time today, and already thinking about the rabbit stew she'll make, she yells, "Rabbit! Rabbit!" and points it out.   When the husband returned with the rabbit she'd indicated, they ate well. Hence, good luck.   Fairly certain this isn't the actual  heritage of the old wives tale but I like it just the same. Addendum: I had to look it up : . I think my explanation was way better.
One of my most treasured ties to home is Major league Baseball (MLB).  When I was in Spain, I was gifted a subscription to one year.  I sat in my room watching the most recently games of my beloved Mariners at all hours of the day. I could occasionally catch a live game, but the website saves all the games so I could watch at my convenience.  This year I passed on the subscription because when I was up in Pluit the internet was horrible. Often no connection, or if there was, it was so slow I would have gone crazy trying to watch a game.  Turns out it was for the best anyway.  My Mariners finished the year 61-101 (win-losses).  the only team worse in either league was the Pittsburgh Pirates.
courtesy of
  It's not surprising considering we had a full coach swap out mid-season. It was a huge waste of Felix Hernandez's talent, and I fear it's only a matter of time before he's begging to get out of his 5 year contract.  I jumped into NFL preseason since the Mariners were hopeless only to now have them , 4 games into the season at 2-2.  Seattle fans are true fans as we continue to love and follow our teams regardless of their performance.

As a child I'd have evenings that turned into nights of dread.  It usually happened on days when I was exhausted by bed time.  Not just tired, really through and through exhausted.  Then I'd realize I forgot my homework or something would happen that sent me into a flurry of tears, sobbing explanations and a stuffy nose. Mom's stand-by advice was to get some rest, that things would look better in the morning.  As a child, I often found it unfathomable that things would look any better in a few hours and yet they always did. I still believe that it's easier to be upset and depressed at night and many things, even if it's still  bad, are slightly better in the morning.  Sunrise, over a span of cultures and centuries, seems to generally be tied to rebirth, renewal and hope. Sunset with death, an ending or finishing of things. I found sunrise during my time on the Camino de Santiago de la Compostela ( and a happy rewarding sunset was at the End of the world.  It was in Finisterre, a location not far from the town of Santiago de la Compostela. It's on the far western coast of Spain, right near Portugal.  In Medieval times it was the end of the know world, all you could see was ocean into infinity. After completing my camino, I sat on the rock and watched the sun dissolve into the sea, feeling a sense of accomplishment and calm.
From Finisterre
 A favorite sunrise in recent memory was just last month, in Yogyakarta.  I had to wake up at 03:30 and ride for over an hour to end up on a peak at the edge of a bowl shaped valley, watching the sun rise behind another mountain.  The day and the whole city laid out in front of me.

From my Yogyakarta trip
I got to thinking about the song "Sunrise, sunset" from Fiddler on the roof.  It was played at my grandfather's funeral since it was both appropriate and one of his favorite movies.  After watching the movie version for the first time last night, it only convinced me how true and apropos the synonym of sunrise and sunsets are.

As a continuation of the previous though is my new "Friday morning is the anti-Sunday night". I hadn't initially planned this as a continuation of the above.  I considered each of these ideas at different times, their cognizance completely individual, but now that I'm writing one after the other, they seem inextricably linked.  As I often find it darkest before the dark (literally), I also struggle with Sunday evenings.  I'm not sure why it's always a lull in my energy.  It could be the subconscious struggle with returning to work on Monday. It might be a comedown from a busy weekend-though not all weekends are go-go-go.  The Sunday blahs and I are well acquainted. I am aware of them, and we co-exist in a strained relationship. Last Friday, while traveling to school on the back of the ojek, as the sun was rising I realized that for me, Friday morning is the anti-Sunday night.  The sun was just high enough to have lit the world but still be hidden by a small low flying cloud.  I was excited that it was the last work day of the week, that I had plans with my friends for the night, that it was a new month with new promise.  The high buoyed me through until about 4 when a headache slammed into my brain full force. True to form, I had my mellow, slightly down Sunday.  For me, I no longer try to fight those depressions (like a pothole) but know that they're there, and aim for the edges that might make the bike wobble, instead of the center which can cause a crash.

Friday, October 01, 2010

MULTI cultural experience

I teach at an international school. I work with Koreans, Indonesians and Ex-pats in a Korean International school in Jakarta. The school staff is divided-the "menial" staff are Indonesian, the "important" staff are Korean. I use these designations for lack of others. The cleaning staff, copy and secretarial staff are all Indonesian.  Some of the more authoritative figures in the head office are Korean, like those dealing with work visas and expenses/funding. The homeroom teachers are all Korean, as are the music, art and physical education teachers.  There are two English departments in the elementary school; 4 Korean women who teach English grammar and 9 native speakers who focus on use and pronunciation.  For those of you not familiar with the TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) world, natives are not the people native to a country, natives refer to native English speakers. The nine of us are made up of 2 Americans, 1 Canadian, 1 Welsh, 3 Brits and 2 Aussies. I am the only female and the youngest in my department.  We are on the same grounds as the middle and high schools but each school is entirely it's own entity.  There is remarkably little interaction with anyone outside of our department actually.

With a mix of so many nationalities, it's not surprising that there are communication snafus regularly.  The first hurdle is to find a common language.  There are some staff here that speak English and Korean (Han-gul), some speak Indonesian and Korean, some (most of my department) speak English and Indonesian.  There are very few (I can think of maybe 2) that can speak all three languages.  As far as my department goes, I'm the only Spanish speaker and we have one French-speaker.  We do however have two kids that used to live in Guatemala though they're Korean.  The kids in my 4-2 class have decided their favorite word to use randomly in class is "senorita" though I don't know where they learned it or why they like it.

I'm noticing many, many ways that these cultures are different.  Remember that before JIKS, I worked at EF in Pluit where the students were Indonesian or Chinese Indonesian.  Now that I've taught in the US, Spain and here-Koreans and Indonesians- I can more clearly make comparisons. I wish I'd done this while I was teaching in Spain, it would help me crystallize my generalizations now.  Teaching in the States feels like a lifetime ago. Couple that with the fact is was swim lessons or kindergartens, discounting the variety of ages in my after school and summer programs, and I am struggling a little to recall the details for comparison now.

The US has become very hands off in regards to children.  We've become so paranoid that everyone wants to take advantage of the children that now teachers are not even to touch them unless absolutely necessary. The Korean kids are happy to come wrap their arms around your waist while you try to maintain (or regain) order.  This happens with all the teachers and it causes no problems.  There is a move that's quite popular in Korea and with Koreans called a Don Ho or Don Chin.  The 'aggressor" puts their hand together as though in prayer.  They then proceed to ram their hands between the butt cheeks of some poor and usually unsuspecting victim.  Hilarity and laughter ensue.  I find it all mildly disturbing but I'm starting to understand why they see it so differently.  The Korean kids are very very physical with each other, in both positive and negative ways.  I was taken aback the first two or three weeks to see kids really thumping and smacking each other.  Boys hit girls, girls hit boys and boys hit boys. They'll smash another student into a wall, sit on them, run across the class just to thump them twice and run back.  It all seemed so violent but they ALL do it and no one really minds.  It's the accepted norm. They are also very physically affectionate, girls and boys will lay in each others laps, hang in hugs and embrace each other.  They does tend to be a divide here, girls with girls and boys with boys.  My kids are 4th grade so this is well before dating etc.  They still "ewww!" if two cartoon characters in a movie kiss.

My Korean students are by far the most talkative I've taught.  The talking, yelling and worst of all high pitched screaming is incessant. The Spanish and American students were quite similar from what I remember, talkative but shush-able. I often struggle with the overall volume of the class. I chalk a bit of it up to the fact that, while most of the Korean teachers don't use corporal punishment, they are happy to threaten it and then parents are known to smack the kids around if they under perform.  I won't do that and they know that.  We made class contracts in all of my classes.  The students make 5 rules for themselves and 5 rules for the teacher (me).  bar none, each group made a "the teacher won't hit the students" rule.  I have a two-pronged technique at this point: stickers and the rare candy for students who listen, follow directions and complete their tasks coupled with the punishment of writing lines for those who don't participate, shut up or stay in their seats.  It's working a bit better as I refine it but I'm still nearly lost my voice this week, again.