Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Away again

As you might have guessed by my lack of blogs recently, I'm traveling again.  This time it's Thailand.  I'm taking advantage of my last big holiday break before I leave SE Asia.  I'll be on the road for nearly a month, all in Thailand.  The first week and a half I'll have Donna, a great friend from Jakarta, along as a traveling companion.  Then I'm flying solo.  I arrived in Phuket two days ago and have been packing the days full so far.

I don't know if I'll get any blogs up while I'm on the road but I'll definitely pick up again when I get back.  I do apologize for the lack of blogs before holiday.  That was a combination of busy life and lack of interesting writing topics.

I hope everyone had a great Christmas/Hanukkah/Solstice/other and Enjoys ringing in the New Year with someone they love. Catch you in 2012!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Lessons learned and observations from teaching

After teaching for over five years now, I've made a few general observations about teaching.  I've also learned a few lessons along the way. These all include experience near Seattle (teaching swim), in Salt Lake City, Utah, Madrid and summer camps in Spain, and Jakarta.  My students have been as young as three and as old as, well, that's impolite to ask but let's estimate mid to late sixties. I've taught private classes and groups as large as 28, utter beginners and pros, general classes and information specific.

  • It's hard to be a student. A good teacher is often a student too, and remembers that.  Being a student doesn't mean we get to slough off other responsibilities.  Even kids have other things they have to do.
  • I learned that it's harder for  me to let there be silence and wait for a students answer than it is for them to think of the answer.  I have come along way as far as that is concerned.  I've also learned how to know if the student is going to come up with the answer or if they need a prompt.
  • No one wants to sit still for too long.  Breaks, class stretching, action activities (even with adults) are a MUST.
  • Everyone laughs when a teacher sings in class. It's hard to make yourself be a fun/funny teacher with adults but it keeps them engaged and interested.  Same goes for using drawings, actions and funny voices.
  • Good coworkers can make your life easier, but not as much as bad coworkers can make work a hellhole.
  • The bells at school are as much for the teachers as the students.
  • Kids thrive when given rules.  Being their friend, or the "cool" teacher, always backfires in some respect.  My students know what my expectations are, they know what the punishments and rewards are and those never change. Especially in Jakarta where nannies and parents rarely coordinate about discipline and the kids run amok, routine and regulations are a very necessary, positive part of school life.
  • It's not fun to make a kid cry, but sometimes thats the only way to come to an understanding and usually your relationship is better afterward. Ji Hyun had a week of tears with me early in the semester but he knows that I'm not going to be wishy-washy about my requirements.  He's grade 1 and he gets it.  He says hi to me everyday in the halls and even likes to chat between classes. If I hadn't cracked down on him, we would both have pulled our hair out by now. 
  • On a related thought, kids don't hold grudges like adults do.  I can discipline a kid in class and when he sees me in the hall and hour later still waves and says hi. Kids bounce in all regards (emotionally, physically, in attention).
  • Everyone likes to be praised.  It costs nothing and when given in earnest, it means the world. Additionally, everyone needs help.  We can't be good at it all right away. Just knowing there's someone there to ask might be all they need, but maybe they need you to catch them, lead them, even push them along.
  • I love teaching.  I'm a great teacher.  I don't feel overly prideful to say that.  I put time and thought into what I do, I know why I do it and I enjoy it.
  • It's fun to see the similarities and differences in teaching different subject and different students.  In most ways, the idea of teaching is the same, but a wise teacher will be sensitive to the subtle differences (like the fact that Indonesian learners and Spanish learners of English will have different pronunciation errors) and adapt to them. 
  • It's true that teachers get more holidays than other professions but tell me you can work with ten year olds all day every day and you don't need more time off! This is why most teachers in the States burn out after four or five years.
  • I'll take dealing with kids over dealing with parents and administration any day. 
  • Lastly, I thrill at my students successes as much as they do.  Anyone who's meant to be a teacher does.
If I get the job I'm trying for in Seattle I'll be transitioning into adult training, which is teaching of a sort. I will miss the kids but have started to think maybe some coaching is in order to make up for that. (No, I don't miss kids enough to have one of my own!)

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Rare Moment

I'm not speechless but I do find myself with little to say.  I've been very busy trying to make the most of my remaining time in Indonesia, I rarely have an evening to myself. I have consolidated the radio show and business class into a single night of back-to-back busy-ness and fill at least three of the other four weeknights with dinners/get togethers.

It's year end at work which means overall reports.  If you'd like more information on that please see this blog.  I am happy to report that I finished the grade 4 scores a day before they are due and with much less stress and hassle than previously.  Its makes sense that I'd have my system down pat about the time I leave.
I've also lined up several upcoming trips.  My friend Donna and I will spend Christmas Day winging to Penang, Malaysia to spend a night and then truck up to Phuket, Thailand.  We'll travel together for about a week.  After she returns to Jakarta, I'll carry on for almost another three weeks.

I have a ridiculous five days of work at the end of January to complete my contract.  It's not even a Monday - Friday; it'll be Wednesday-Friday and the following Monday and Tuesday.  I'd hoped to squeeze in a trip to Lombok and the Gili Islands in February but that is in serious doubt now.  I'll have to wait until then and see if I have any cents left (note the intentional spelling there).

I return to the land of red, white and blue the second week of February with hopes of an interview that week.  I'll be at home long enough to unpack and rest before going to Puerto Rico for a wedding of two fantastic people I met in Spain.  Lord knows I couldn't pass up the opportunity so I'll be there a week.

That aside, there are a few things in a bigger picture but that picture is a bit fuzzy now and shan't be discussed yet. Hopefully I'll find something adequately inspiring to write you about tomorrow.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Lessons learned in and from Indonesia

The only time I don't mind being noticed, aka stared at, is when I'm whizzing by on an ojek. I have to consciously fight the urge to stick my arms out as we hit a traffic free stretch.

Good quality rain gear is worth is weight, but so is a mentality that it doesn't matter if you get wet. Sandals are the smarter shoe in the rain and people seem to getting wetter in direct proportion to how hard they are trying to stay dry.

I instinctively assume rain, foggy mornings and gray days will be cold.

Ojeks are still the best way to get around this city. Traffic flows like water, trying to stay in perpetual motion.  I'm still surprised there aren't more accidents than there are here.

Street animals will always break my heart and puppies always make me smile.

I hate zoos.  They depress me and make me feel helpless. 

Badly translated signs are still funny, even after being abroad for four years. Things like semen elephant fiber make me giggle.

No matter how many times I've heard it, when a student offers "cock" as an animal, or asks for a "rubber" and means eraser, I have to stifle a chuckle.

Upon entering my apartment, cicaks (little wall lizards) and cockroaches scurry in the same way and I jump, startled in the same way.

I really like bats.  I have become a big fan of anything that eats mosquitoes or other things that bite me, but I really think bats are cool especially at dusk, swooping out of the trees.

The more languages I learn the worse my typing gets.

People wearing uniforms may look official or proper but for the most part they hold no real power.

A tree branch is not a good warning marker for a pothole or broken down vehicle. Just like honking is not a good way to make something happen in traffic.

Sometime foreign words, or phonetically spelled words, are easy to understand but it still takes practice.  Is crem took me a bit to figure out.  Now I can easily tell what mekanik, otomotif, bisnis and sekolha teknik are.

Buses deserve names, of course.  Like "publik figur" the "love you full" and "itu dia?" - that guy?

I miss the seasons and the points of change between them.  I miss boots and scarves, sweatshirts and socks.

Just because a city is near the sea doesn't mean the beach is worth a damn.  I chose Pluit when I first moved here to work for EF because it was the closest to the coastline.  What a mistake!  It is foul-smelling and toxic.  You couldn't pay me enough to go in the water there.

Koreans are strange. Indonesians are strange. I am strange.  We are just all strange in our own weird way. . . . And some more than others.

I don't ever want to go to Korea. North OR South.

The more I travel, the more racist I get.  I know the reasons for the stereotypes and the presuppositions. I make them too, but I know why. 

I have a temperament better suited for Europe than Asia. I also didn't realize how much I liked things in Madrid.  It was far from perfect and there are lots of opportunities/advantages in Asia that don't exist in Spain but I'll happily go back there and not here, to live that is.

I can be more patient than I knew. An hour on a stopped bus? Two hours to go five miles? Twenty five minutes in a grocery check out line with two people ahead of me?  No sweat.

There is no limit to the number of people you fall in love with in your life.  I've met some amazing people here, first and foremost my girlfriends.  There have been a few men that have come and gone but the heart and mind have a limitless capacity.  I love them now and will take them with me when I go.

Sunday, December 04, 2011



verb (used with object)
1. to drain of strength or energy, wear out, or fatigue greatly, as a person: I have exhausted myself working.
2. to use up or consume completely; expend the whole of: He exhausted a fortune in stock-market speculation.
3. to draw out all that is essential in (a subject, topic, etc.); treat or study thoroughly.
4. to empty by drawing out the contents: to exhaust a tank of fuel oil.
5. to create a vacuum in.
Origin: 1515-25; 1895-1900 for def 11; Latin exhaustus emptied out, drained out, past participle of exhaurire.
Synonyms: 1. tire, enervate, prostrate, debilitate.

I think numbers one through four all apply to me today. I am so tired I can barely think straight.  Its my own doing and I wouldn't undo it for anything.
I went away to Bali for the weekend with two friends.  Nora who was my visitor from the States last week, and Donna, another American slogging away here in the Big Durian. We rushed through Friday evening traffic and hopped on a plane over to the Isle of Other.  As social coordinator, I'd made reservations and we went straight to the hotel to change clothes and drop our bags.

We headed out in search of dinner at midnight.  Nora disappeared into the dark to find a friend.  Donna and I had a fantastic time people watching.  Bali felt younger than when I was there a couple weeks ago.  There were lots of Australian schoolies (high schoolers and families there on winter vacation) and at 29 I felt old. We had quite a laugh drinking 1/2 liter beverages from plastic ducks while commenting on everyone who went by from the gorgeous to the bloodied to the tragic.

Saturday Nora was still MIA so Donna and I lounged by the pool trying to recover our strength. Eventually we made our way to Mojo's Flying Burrito.  It was a recommendation from another friend in Jakarta and it was stellar.  He didn't inflate the truth.  Mission burritos, nachos, tacos.  Mexican food like I've never found in Asia. A meandering pace through Jalan Legian as we picked up gelato and headed for a nap.  I had all intention of napping until I struck up conversation with a couple Australian guys.  Brandt is a teacher and away the conversation went.  His brother Malcolm and old friend Rod made us a quartet. Six hours later we were still sat at the pool tell stories and drinking beer.  Rod had gone, Donna and Nora joined. The ambient was cool and relaxed, the beers icy cold, the conversation stimulating.  It was a night that lasted into the morning.  

Sunday proved tougher still to wake up.  Donna, thankfully, banged on my door and we shuffled off to the beach.  She's ridiculously pale so we couldn't stay long but any beach is better than no beach. We packed up and checked out leaving our bags for later.  Mojo's was a lunch repeat and again, did not disappoint.  Donna went for a shop and I headed back to the pool. That evening I picked up a few bits and pieces at the shops near the hotel, we grabbed a bite where I had the best caipiroska of my life, and hailed a cab to the airport.  

It was a big full busy weekend but things had mostly gone swimmingly. Nora left us Saturday night and stayed with a friend before heading to the airport.  I don't envy her the long flight.  I'll have my own soon.  Sunday night Donna and I went to the airport with and hour and a half to our 22:15 flight.  On check in we were told the flight was an hour delayed.  By the time we got off the ground it was almost three hours delayed.  That meant instead of getting to my house about midnight I arrived home at 2:30.  The 6 am alarm was especially painful.

After five classes, more rigamarole with my teaching "partner" and lots of marking, I'm beat.  Toast. Dead where I sit.  I am. . . beyond exhausted. Though on the back of a weekend in Bali, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Indonesians in the way

I used to complain about the way Madrileños walk down the street.  They always spread across the sidewalk to fill the void.  If there were two people they left a bit of a gap between to fill up at least 70% of the sidewalk.  If there were five people they would more or less string along arm in arm to fill the entire width of the sidewalk.  Walking like this is great for conversation.  It's less than great for the person stuck behind, frantically trying to pass and rush to the subway station to go to class.
Jakartans have topped the Madrileños and then some. Not only can they walk side beside wide enough to fill a mall walkway, but they've found other equally frustrating ways to be in the way.  Elevators are a great example. 98% of the foreigners I know in Jakarta complain about Indonesian elevator etiquette or lack there of. When you are waiting for an elevator and it arrives the Indonesians will immediately bum-rush the door. The problem is that there are usually people in the elevator trying to get out, especially in the malls. There are no alternate exits and I can't give you may space in the elevator until you let me get out. Simple physics. Now move back!!

A couple weeks ago I had a similar experience on an even more absurd level.  I was at a mall with some friends for dinner.  The closest bathroom has a strange layout,  there are three stalls side by side but the walkway to get to them is next to a wall and very narrow.  I have become accustomed to the Indonesian way of lining up outside each individual stall, not making one master line from which the next person proceeds forward. That took some getting used to too.  You have to make your bet on who's going to come out first, who has a child in with them, who's changing clothes, etc.  I queued and went into the stall.  I pride myself on being quick when others are waiting and within a minute or two I opened the door to emerge but couldn't. A teenage girl was barging her way in.  If you think carefully about bathroom stalls, there's not much spare space.  There was no way I was going to be able to go around.  So I laid into her with my arm and pushed out, leaving her to regain her balance.  I left shaking my head.

Another new situation had me astounded once again this morning.  I caught the elevator to the basement of my building where I walk out to meet my ojek.  Usually the elevators are empty but a woman was in it when I got on.  We rode down and she rushed to get out before me as I suspected she would so I hung a step back.  After leaving the elevator you must exit a security door to reach the garage.  She pushed the button to release the door, opened it and then stayed in the door way, bag on one side, arm holding the door on the other and me left with nowhere to go.  The security guard tried to shuffle her out of the way, at which point she turned around and looked at me. She seemed both startled to see me and to be glaring.  WE WERE IN THE ELEVATOR TOGETHER!! She knew I was there.  Where the hell else was I going to go? I gave her a dirty look, to which she was oblivious because she was Indonesian and exited.

I'm starting to think these are all a metaphor for my life in Jakarta.

Monday, November 28, 2011


I had a couple new blog posts in mind to write up this week.  I didn't get to one yesterday as the day rapidly filled up on me.  Today, those plans are being put aside because I'm so pissed off I have to vomit it out onto my blog or it will surely poison me from within.

WARNING: I usually refrain from using much profanity on this blog (has there been any?) as I don't know who my audience is and it's not ordinarily necessary.  Today it is.  I will be using a few words not appropriate for the tenderhearted.  It makes the point that I am as furious as I am. If you don't want to suffer through it, then wait for tomorrow's post.

Now back to my previously initiated RAGE.

My teaching "partner" is an absolute fuckwit. FUCKWIT!! I have had a bit of a whine about him before but I've been pushed the point of no return. A quick bio.  He's British, 40ish, looks like an evil rat when he smiles which is rarely, he eats like a starving street dog swallowing food nearly whole and dropping bits around, he's married to a limp, drab Indonesian woman.  He's is as fucking lazy as it humanly possible unless it's an activity of his choosing. Conversation with him is always work and he never knows when to stop talking if it's a topic he enjoys. I've wondered if he falls somewhere on the autism spectrum as he is socially inappropriate or oblivious, alternately. He loves looking up crime reports in online newsites, cackles at pictures of rapists and murderers but is generally devoid of an appropriate response for office chatter. To put it in his own language, he's a cunt.

He started working here about a year before I did, and he's several years my senior. This complicated by the fact that I do everything to prepare for grade four and regularly have to ask him to do something. Anything.  For example, last week I asked him to prepare three assessments; reading, speaking and listening. It's nearly year's end for us and we've got some time to get extra assessments in.  Last week he accomplished nothing towards their completion.  I also reminded him twice that he needs to put his scores in the computer so I can start to work on the overall reports. I did them entirely by myself last year after working here only five months. He's either useless on the computer or plays it that ways effectively enough that I know it would take twice as long to do it with his help. This week I asked him again on Monday to update his student scores and make up an assessment.  As of 2:15pm on Tuesday I've made an assessment, he's taken a nap.  My scores were entered after each test or two.  He's got five tests that are missing. It might be nice if I could get started on overall reports early but he's making that impossible.

I've done everything this year and last.  I was the one who put together the SOSE book.  We get to actually assemble our own science material.  It was more work than usual since last years was written by someone else who made the material boring, too difficult and uninteresting.  I went through and remade the entire book so now it's mostly activities.  Not only did it plan the whole year out in advance, it means we, I mean I, am not making copies every day. I have made or copied sixteen of the seventeen tests we've had so far this year. He made one, and only after I pestered him for a week to do it.

He's looked pretty good on the whole as he's ridden my coattails.  He doesn't belong as a primary teacher.  Today he was meant to start some water videos as intro to our new unit.  I've got a couple by Bill Nye the Science Guy.  I walked in to this video:
Watch two minutes and you'll be snoring at your desk. Jump to the 1:55 mark.  That's where I walked in. These kids are ten and elven years old.  They are also non-native English speakers to boot.  Do you think they're going to follow any of it?  They were all talking and not paying attention. In contrast this was my video:

I've used Bill Nye before in class.  I adore Bill and not just because the show was made in Seattle.  He's level correct, there are lots of short segments and pictures to help explain the concept.  The kids all sang along with the theme song. I followed it with a couple more clips and then a song by They Might Be Giants with even simpler language about states of matter (solid, liquid, gas).

To boot, he teaches one class less than I do.  He only has to deal with this attrocious grade 6 class twice a week for English while I've got them three times a week for science.  To give you a basis for how bad this class is, I said two weeks ago I'd rather sit and hit yself in the head with a hammer for 80 minutes than teach them.  That bad.

For some reason, he also hasn't been required to do a CA.  It's a form of extra-cirricular class for grades 5 and 6, usually athletic.  It runs Thursday 12:50-2:20, no little chunk of time there.  AND YET I'm doing all the real work.  I joked to a sympathetic coworker last week that he still manages to nap three days a week, which is true.  On the sofa in the teachers room.  This coworker told me he actually naps every day but the other two are when I'm in class and he's not.

He's going to continue to skate through since, being the nice person that I am who's more worried about the kids education than screwing him over in a fit of revenge, I left all the materials on the school database. There may be one little schadenfreude moment in all this at least.  It provides small, small comfort.  There is another teacher here that has generally been panned by the staff.  He's a know-it-all and a dick. He never shuts up and knows more about your own family than you do.  Well, he thinks he does.  He started here in January.  He wants to move up to grade four.  He and my current teaching "partner" will kill each other, both get fired or both. Maybe everyone will finally realize what a useless waste of space this asshole is.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


A few simple lines for Thanksgiving.

I'm grateful for my family who have always been there for me and supported me in more ways that I can recount.

I appreciate my chosen family, my friends, now mostly here in Jakarta, but also those in Madrid and elsewhere.

I'm thankful for so many opportunities to travel this year.  I have seen so many amazing things and met some wonderful people in a variety of places.

I'm excited to be moving back to Seattle, and close to my family.  I'm almost as excited that I'll be living in a city where things work in a logical way (even if a lot of things in the States aren't).

I'm happy that I will be eating a big turkey dinner with some American friends even though I'm half way around the world and twelve to fifteen hours ahead of Thanksgiving in the US.

I'm thankful I've had some visitors here to Jakarta before I leave.

I'm appreciative of my colleagues.  They aren't my social circle, but they are (mostly) good folks who help me keep what's left of my sanity at work.

I'm happy at the mild success of this blog.  I didn't think I'd care how many people read it, but I do get a thrill when the daily views are high and there are comments.

Lastly, I'm more than pleased to have been around for another year to do all that I have.

Have a very Happy Thanksgiving.  Even if you're not American and this isn't your holiday, take a moment to silently be grateful for something or someone in your life.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Double-edged Sword

In some ways, deciding to go has made Jakarta more tolerable.  I know I won't have to put up with the traffic and pollution and BS much longer.  I'll go to a place with parks, driving laws that are followed and a societal structure that functions in general.  Another three months here is a small penance.  I'm trying to make the most of my time by seeing and doing all I can to check things off my Indonesia to do list.  Spending time with my friends is a big part of that.  Dinners, nights out, trips.  I'm burning the candle at both ends and in the middle.

On the other hand, I've come down with a bad case of 'short timers syndrome'.  It's just like when you've given your two week notice to quit your job.  Mentally you've already checked out.  You're ready for the new challenges and experiences that are sure to follow.  In the same breath that I say I can be more tolerant I know I'm not.  I'm ready to go.  I'm over the mosquitoes, the traffic jams, the torrential rain that mucks everything up, the mister-bombings.  I'm over twenty minute waits for taxis and having to wear heels to go out.

Going home is going to be a big hit to my social life.  I have very, VERY few friends in Seattle these days.  A byproduct of being away so long.  I'll be spending much needed time with my mom and waiting to get hired/get paychecks rolling again while trying to meet new people.  Life at home is full of uncertainty right now.

Jakarta is all uncertainty, but now its the kind I'm certain of.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Rubber Time

At some point you think I'd learn.  In Spain nothing happens on time.  Fifteen minues late is "on time" and half an hour late is still acceptable.  It takes some getting used to when you show up fifteen minutes early for class and it's forty minutes before you see your first students in an adult business class.  They have a different idea of what's rush-worthy.  The last subway train of the night is rush-worthy.  The start of the business day not so much. It's the laid back Latin mentality that also allows whole cities to shut after lunch for siesta.  The Brits are known for their timeliness, the Spanish, for good reason, are not.

If the Spanish are tardy, I'm not sure what the correct term for Indonesians is.  The phrase they use is "rubber time", which really doesn't do justice to their lack of punctuality. It's not just the mentality that it doesn't really matter.  It's also that there's always a good excuse - the rain, the traffic, a flat tire on your ojek, no taxis, a protest or road closure. Surprisingly, my business class is always on time but it is an office of just ten people and I teach in their only conference room.

Knowing all of this I still always show up on time.  At work we're required to be in at seven.  The first class of the school day isn't until 7:20.  I turn up between 6:50 and 6:55 every day.  I was into my business class five minutes early.  I arrive early enough at the radio show that I can squeeze in a sate.  My downfall is being on time to social events. My friends never manage to calculate how long trips in this chaotic city will take.  I seem to have a better sense about how long it really takes to get somewhere.  I consider the time of day,  where I'm going to and from, what political issues might affect my trip, and the weather.

Yesterday, for example, I was able to walk down to the street, wait minutes for a taxi and still get to the restaurant five minutes early. My friend was 30-40 minutes late.  It was raining, she couldn't get a cab, etc.  She's lived in Indonesia ten years but doesn't have a sixth sense about transport I guess. This wasn't my longest wait either! That tops out at an hour and a half.  No reason to wonder why I carry a book!

Random assortment

Things I saw from the back of my ojek last week:
  • Another motorbike with FIVE riders.  That's a record and the kids weren't even toddlers!
  • There's a lumberyard I pass every morning near school that has a big sign with an elephant walking on what looks like corrugated tin.  It says "Elephant Fiber Semen" because of course the Indonesian word for cement is semen.
  • In 80 degree weather at 3:45pm, a guy with two big rectangle blocks of ice balanced under his knees on his motorbike.
  • A big advertising board on the side of the road announcing "Indonesian Submission Championship".  From the picture I gather it's something wrestling-esque, but I don't forgive the name.  The time was shown as 9-finished and all I could think was that it would be until everyone gave up. 
Recent Korean translation gaffes:

#1 - Divides the absentee report guidance (embassy cooperative request fact) door overseas today. Distributing entrusting gives in the students. If teacher charge will give when the students will bring the application and the passport copy and [ket] [e], will refer with the administrative thread and staring the plan which will send with the embassy from the administrative thread puts on. Teachers the object person draws up and together under submitting becomes hour cotton. Will respect the minute when the declaration is more necessary and, at extra in each school office to furnish will put. (From the Internet knock-down receiving serviceable) Cooperative entrusting gives  (I'd love to know what administrative thread looks like)

#2 - Friday is a temporary schedule. The leggings schedule the charge schedule spring to confirm, to inform. Grateful ~
#3 - Democratic criticism as a result of commemorated the conference from, unifying composition saying and thanks in No-GO of teachers the rice cake and the fruit neatly with the intention which prepared. Hold tastefully from each school office. (Thanks in No-GO of teachers? was it something we went to or that we didn't go to then?)

In realizing I don't have a lot of time left here in Jakarta I'm going to try to start compiling the things I'll miss.  Today's edition:
Jen and I are really close friends.  She's the person in Jakarta who's known me the longest and knows me the best.  We suffered through EF together, and escaped at the same time.  We've been on holiday today and gone hunting together. When we're out and about we people watch and because we don't know them, we make up code names.  In the last three months or so we've used a variety including: Roly-poly, The Hat, The Lion, Dutch, Frankenstein, 12 words, British creeper, Pedo, Diva, Julian (who is another friend but this wasn't him), Teeth, Fish, and Shark. I'm going to miss someone that gets all that and helped create it all.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bukit Lawang

A couple of weeks ago we had a holiday from school and I went to Sumatra.  I met Al, my Spanish friend there.  As the one usually in charge of making plans for the group, I was delightfully surprised that he'd already sorted out our two day trek and transport. We were whisked away from the airport in Medan and off into the North Sumatran jungle after a four-five hour car ride. Map here.  We spent the first night in a "town" just outside the national park. It's so tiny I'm hard pressed to call it a town. It's mostly a collection of guest houses and shops for tourists who go to Bukit Lawang to see the orangutans.  It's one of the few places where Indonesia got the right idea and made it a protected national park before all the animals were exterminated.

We were a group of six: Al, me, two dutch girls and a couple - he is Belgian, she is Indonesian.  Our trek started the next morning, up a steep hill into the jungle.  About 30 minutes into the hike I saw Emily, a friend from Jakarta.  Random.  She was supervising students on a school trip.  You know it's a small world when you meet people you know in a Sumatran jungle. The trek was an all day affair and regardless what Al thinks, it wasn't easy.  I was alright until lunch, which sat like a bowling ball and made the afternoons climbs much less fun. We spent the night on the bank of a river, sleeping on packed dirt, being attacked by bugs. No much joy in that.  The next morning was a short jaunt over the river and through the woods to a waterfall. Then the girls packed up and headed back to town by inner tube.  We dropped the boys off part way and they hiked the rest. Another night in town before a car outta dodge.

Orangutan is from the Indonesian words orang meaning person and hutan meaning forest.  So orangutans are forest people.  It's also probably the only Indonesian word that is used "worldwide". It's easy to see why they call them that.  Orangutans are a species of great ape not so far removed from people.  In the forest one of our group members was grabbed by an orangutan momma with a baby.  You could see her logic as it only took bribing her with some sawo and bananas to get her to release Natalia. Their hands look remarkably like ours, as do their eyes.  We had to wait and run past Meena, an especially bad tempered orangutan.  They all had their own personalities and the guides knew who was who.

I saw hornbills, a couple different kinds of monkeys, and more insects that you can shake a stick at.  There were five different orangutan sightings. It was wonderful to get out of the city and feel the fresh air again.  The experience isn't one I'd willingly repeat but I'm glad I did it once.  The car ride there is enough to let you know it isn't a trip for wussies. Seeing a part of Indonesia that hasn't been ruined by mining/oil, logging or tourism is a rare opportunity. Add a few monkeys and orangutans and it was a real pleasure.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Visitors from Outer Space!!

Not exactly, but from Jakarta, Madrid may as well be. Al came to visit from Madrid a couple weeks ago.  He's a friend from a life many moons ago. He'd written to say he had some time off and was thinking of coming to see Indonesia.  I encouraged him to come and see the tropical jungle that is.

He arrived in Jakarta and navigated the taxi to my apartment without much trouble. The bad news of no duty free vodka was quickly supplanted with jamon, salchichon and cheese from España. Oh rapture. I still haven't opened it.  I had a hard time giving him even two days worth of things to see and do in Jakarta.  He stumbled around my neighborhood in the blistering heat  and accomplished very little.  That's the true welcome to Jakarta.  Spending lots of time and energy to not get a lot done. In less than a day he say Kota Batavia (the old Dutch fort), Monas (the National Monument) and I met him for a walk around Al-Istiqlal, the largest mosque in Southeast Asia. We made the most of Friday night and the girls met us for a big night out.  In this one area, Jakarta doesn't disappoint.  The proof was in his hangover the next morning.

He jetted off to Yogyakarta while I carried on at school.  We'd made plans to meet in Medan when I had mid-semester holiday. I stayed in Jakarta to enjoy the All Blacks win of the Rugby World Cup and took a flight out to meet him early Monday morning. We met up without incident and had a couple good days in the jungle.

In his time in Indonesia, he was able to see bits of Sumatra, Java, Bali, and the Gili islands.  Not too shabby for only three and a half weeks. When we parted ways I thought I'd see him again before he left for Spain but that was not to be.  Plans are never certain in Indo. All the same, it was fantastic to have a friend for the outside world come to visit. I'm not expecting that again any time soon though maybe once I get to Seattle I can convince some folks to come and see my amazing hometown.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Hold for an Announcement Please. . .

I am trying.  I know I had another blog hiatus, and that you all probably don't care enough to make me feel guilty but I do. I'll try to recount some of the recent shenanigans in a coming post.  Today though, today is an announcement. 

I'm leaving Jakarta.  I will lose the last of my few remaining marbles if I stay.  If you've read more than one of my blogs, you've figured out that I'm not a big proponent of Jakarta.  When other travels say "Oh you live in Jakarta?! What's that like?" I usually tell them it's shit.  There are amazing, beautiful places to see in Indonesia. . . Jakarta isn't one of them.  In fact it is one of the absolute last places you should bother going.  If you have to fly in to Jakarta to connect to Bali, Lombok, Sumatra, wherever, book your connecting flight out the same day.  Aceh has Sharia law, you know the one from Saudi Arabia that allows the government to hand out sentencing like being stoned to death or allowing a father to kill his daughter for dishonoring the family.  Yeah, that's the one.  I'd suggest Aceh before Jakarta.

That being said, there is one reason it's difficult to leave.  Or six.  Namely, Jenn, Julia, Donna, Carla, Zoe, and Sarah.  Vicki you're not on the list because you'll already be gone. You get the picture. I've made some very good friends here.  We've held each other up and sometimes helped each other hold it together.  We've made our own family when our own were so far away.  We have drunk, danced, ate, partied, swam, gossiped, traveled and been ill together (not all at once luckily).  They have been my sanity and the best of my insanity.  Through changes of jobs, temporary boyfriends, and loss of other friends. . . through the seasons, of which there are only two a year, they have been there.  I hope I have been there for them as well.  I think they'd say I have.

I have been a makeshift social coordinator for our little band of thieves. I'm the one who sends out messages about gatherings, bringing people together for food and frivolity. I don't doubt that life will go on without me here, but i doubt all these people will hang out together.  I've been told such a thing happened in Madrid.  I'd brought people from all different point of my life together in Madrid.  When I left they went back to their respective spheres of the city, no common point to attract them.  For this reason I feel bad leaving. We've had such good times together I wish for them to continue despite my absence.

I will be returning to Seattle.  There is a career opportunity there that I'm hoping to take advantage of, not to mention spending some time with my family.  They've not see much of me in the last five years or so. They're looking forward to seeing me.  They're almost as happy as my dog will be when I walk in the door and don't move away again in three weeks. I realize the things I'm most looking forward to are some of the simplest:  seeing my family, my own bed, walking my dog, parks, sidewalks, four seasons, Mexican food, American boys, drinking tap water, etc, etc, etc.

More about this to follow undoubtedly but now you know.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I've been on a kimchi binge lately

Those are words I thought I'd never say. I have never been a particularly picky eater.  I find lots of foods I like and there are very few that I resoundingly refuse. This week I've found myself three days in a row, staring down some kimchi.  It was by choice and it tasted good.  My stomach isn't always happy about it but it tastes good. 
One day I had chicken katsu and kimchi. The next was pork katsu and kimchi.  One benefit of working at a  Korean school is pork. I still get funny looks when I occasionally pass on rice. There's a saying in Indonesia that you haven't eaten if there wasn't any rice.

Both days I had what we call Kimchi pizza.  It's not kimchi on a pizza.  It's kimchi that has had a little flour added and is fried flat like a pancake. It's really yummy.  I think I'll have another one today.
Today one of the parents brought in kimchi mandoo.  It's a dumpling filled with kimchi, noodles and tofu. Not too spicy but nice. It was served with a strange "drink".  It was bright pink with slices of white radish, garlic and onion floating in it. It tasted much better than it sounds. 

I might wash it all down with the grape drink that has real, whole grapes floating about it in. 
 Or a Milkis which is like combining think yogurt with sprite. 

I do like some Korean food, especially the barbequed pork.  That said I'm glad I don't have to eat it every day.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I dare say

I've mention a couple of peculiarities I've added to my vernacular (a word I like and feel is highly underused) over the years.  I think the process really began when I left the States but as I think of it, I'd trace it back to Lawrence, Kansas.  I attended one year of university and left with a y'all that stuck.  It doesn't come out too often. Strangely, improving my Spanish helped reinforce it. There's a verb form that is for "you all who are not me but who I'm talking to" therefor distinct from a They or a We.  Y'all fits precisely.
As my Spanish vocabulary grew in size and complexity, it began to pervert my English. There are words that are similar but sound slightly different - like information and información. Click on the words for pronunciations. They are very close but the stress is distinct. The patterns of speech and word orders are different in Spanish as well.  And let's not forget that there are more verb tenses for past and present in Spanish. It makes my head start to spin thinking about all the intricacies when now I can usually speak it without much thought.
Now as I've come to Indonesia my language is further corrupted. Indonesian, or bahasa indonesia as it's called here, is the opposite of Spanish.  It contains few grammar rules, most revolving about suffixes and prefixes that change a words meaning or use. When the Republic of Indonesia was founded the government realized the need to have a single uniting language, while not abolishing the local languages.  They made it simple enough that anyone could learn it. Instead of having a past tense, anything that happened before now is accompanied by kemarin, or yesterday.  My first few months here involved lots of incidents where I'd say "but it wasn't yesterday, it was a week ago" or something to that affect. If you want to be specific you say when, such as last month, or two weeks ago, but kemarin is the norm.  The same happens with besok or tomorrow for anything in the future.  Part of my personal result of all this has been that when something had occurred or been done the Indonesians say sudah or already.  Nearly all the bule who live here use that as well.  Did you eat lunch? Already.  Are you finished with the paper? Already.  It's awful English but it's very pervasive.

That gives me a nice segue into the fact that teaching English is more likely to screw up your English than anything.  If you hear bad English all day, everyday. You start to subconsciously pick up your students habits and ticks, like the above mentioned already.  You also get accustomed to speaking in short broken bits of English knowing that your students won't follow a more cohesive speech pattern. You go home? Bring book tomorrow ya? It's an effort to change gears when I'm out with friends and speak like the intelligent adult I am.

The last percentage of blame goes to my expat friends.  These are folks from the US, England, Australia, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, Scotland and Wales mostly.  Many of them have retained an accent and vocabulary close to what it would be at home, some have not.  They've all affected my speech.  I'd never have said . . . well, wait right there.  I"d never have said I'd never have said before.  That's present perfect and much more common in the UK.  That could be my friends or teaching British English for two years.  Brilliant, can't be asked (with accompanying Liverpudlian accent), meant to (in place of supposed to), and reckon (used as "you think") are the most prevalent additions. I'm trying to compile a list of all my "new" words but we'll see how that goes.  I'll also start a list of pronunciations as two weeks ago we realized I say to-MAH-to in the British vein, no longer to-MAY-to as most Americans would. 

Luckily, I'm still the one translating and interpreting for others!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Fight! Fight! Fight!

We had a fight at school last Friday.  Let me set the scene.  It must have been between 9:30 and 10am because that's when we have break time and it's the only reason we all would have been in the office.  There are 9 bule teachers (eight guys and me), plus four Koreans who teach English and four other grade five teachers in our office.  The mood was light as it was Friday and we'd been told we could leave at 12:30 (except John, Lincoln and I who had extra-curriculars). The weather was good, rugby talk in the air.

Here's a map of our office.  Blue desks are bule teachers.  H.O.D. is the head of department.  The red is the "dead zone" from the fight.

The left hand side is all windows, the right hand is cabinets and beyond them a wall, then the hall. What would appear above this on the school layout is the Korean teachers room.
Here's a snippet of the chat I was having online with my mom as it started:

Me: Hang on, there is something happening here.  There is shouting in the office.

Me: in English and in Korean
Me: like a reality TV show
Mom: chick fight?
Me: a parent screaming at a teacher, another teacher screaming and translating
Me: the vice principal just came in.
Mom: Built in entertainment at work.
Me: Full on screaming for 3 minutes, thrashing about. Left, came back. Then the bule boys started screaming for them to get out.  The parent had to be physically restrained.

Me: I guess. And I've got good blog material today.
Mom: Could you figure out what the parent was yelling about?
Me: Sort of. 

The mom, we'll call her Mary, came in from the door and the top and headed towards Scott sitting at his desk. She started in a speaking voice which quickly elevated.  As you can see, there's not a lot of room between the desks, about a meter and a half in the middle aisle. As she came in another teacher, we'll call her Jane, made a beline for her. Mary works in the high school and has a daughter in grade four. Jane works here in the elementary and has a son in grade four.  I've taught both kids and they're good, smart kids.  Mary and Jane are good friends, so Jane took Mary out to the hall to try and assess things and cool her off presumably. They exited through the door closer to my desk. 

A minute or two later the door flung open and my name was thrown out.   "blah blah blah Miss Melissa . . . blah blah Melissa . . .blah blah" and of course in this case the blah's are Korean.  Oh crap.  I'd sat through it so far at my desk, literally keeping my head down. What did I do?

Mary then storms back in through the far door at Scott again.  She's even more revved up than before.  Scott is seated so she's taller (at about five foot) than he is and she's right in his face, arms flying, volume crescendoing. Someone finally gets the vice principal, who we so affectionately call Mr. Dim.  He's about six foot six and as big around as a telephone pole-not to mention almost as useful. He arrives looking sufficiently puzzled and stands at the fight site doing nothing. At some point one of the Korean English teachers has gone over and become a human shield in front of Scott, who, before I forget, is about 45, British and about 210 pounds to my estimate. His shield? Late 30's, five-six, 120-130 pounds. 

Chris, one of the bule teachers, eventually starts shouting to get her out.  That it was enough.  Lincoln, Ben and Stephan all join in.  I'm still head down, busy with emails. John, the mellowest of the bunch, tries to physically restrain Mary.  She had worked herself into an absolute tizzy at this point and was screaming at anyone within two feet of her.  She flung john off (he's over six foot tall too) and was finally escorted/dragged out.  The fifteen second of silence that followed was deafening. And then we realized Scott was in the corner, crying. (insert surprised face here).

From what I have gathered here were the precipitating events:
Harry, Jane's son, won the grade four spelling bee the day before.
Scott, one of the bule teachers made some joke about it. to two other bule teachers.
Mary heard it or was told about it and she's the one that got upset
She came in screaming.

The bule boys were saying some awful things afterward. Saying she's crazy, she should be fired immediately, she was molested as a child, and also that it didn't matter if she was, that someone like that shouldn't be working with children. I said absolutely nothing.  I swear my teaching partner was trying to get me to weigh in and I finally said " I don't know enough about what happened or her to say anything so I won't".

BUT WAIT! THERE'S MORE!  She left and Scott was calmed just about the time we all had class.  I came back after (40 minutes).  Jane asked if I would pay for the pizza her friend (Mary) had ordered since she had class.  She gave me the cash and left saying that the pizza was for "white faces, not yellow faces", meaning bules not Koreans.  Mary came in, I gave her the money.  She said sorry in Indonesian to John and I, as we were the only ones in the office. I opened the food.  Two pizzas, two salads, three containers of chicken wings and two liters of coke.  I made myself a plate and went to my desk. John did the same.  When the bell rang the first six people through the door were Koreans.  I sure as hell wasn't going to be the one to tell them the pizza wasn't for them. It wasn't long before the snide comments started, insinuating the pizza was poisoned, that she could've sprung for nicer pizza than Pizza Hut, etc. Mostly saying that pizza diplomacy wasn't enough.
Either way, I could do with a little more pizza and a little less screaming in my life.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Return of the (lack of the) Costume Gene

Its October 12th and that means Halloween is approaching. When living in a tropical country there is no changing of the leaves, there's no crisp undertones in the air, there's no need for a scarf.  My mom told me she was surprised to be seeing pumpkins in the supermarket.  At the local Lotte Mart I can get squash at all times of the year, but never pumpkins.  There are places in Indonesia, like on Sumatra, that have pumpkin all the time for soups and local delicacies. If it weren't for Della, I'd forget.  Della is one of my closest friends here and she's blessed to have the gene, the costume gene. Here's a reminder of my opinion from last year.

I do miss the change of season.  I miss the tables in the markets of apple cider, pumpkins, hot chocolate and bags of mini candy bars. I don't miss having to figure out something witty to be for Halloween.  I liked my costume last year.  I was a 1950's era deadline rushed reporter. See it here. 

Last week we had a costume going away party.  You can tell many of my friends enjoy fancy dress parties (that's a costume party for you Americans).  We have color theme nights for regular Fridays out.  The going away party was Mobster Monday.  I was able to scrape something together quickly, using bits from the reporter outfit of last year. Not bad huh?

So, I'm culling you, my imaginative, creative, interesting readers.  Throw out anything.  I still am not confident enough to wear something like this
Not to mention I wouldn't know where to find it in Indonesia.  But I kinda want something more feminine than last year.  Help!

Monday, October 10, 2011

I've figured it out . . .

I got a free episode of MTV's The Real World.  I was a teenager in the 90's in the US so it was obligatory watching. It was a lousy show then but allowed teens and preteens to peek through the keyhole into what "adulthood" might be. I didn't realize they'd still be producing it when they were on season 83 and the rest of the TV spectrum is composed of about 90% reality TV (statistics based solely on my own impressions).

I had to watch it to see if it was the same trash it was in '95.  It is.  I was fully ready to turn it off almost as soon as I'd turned it on.  It opened with a whiny 19 year old who lives in San Diego (where this particular season was set) and was lamenting leaving her family.  SIGH.  It was your choice, you're driving there (and hence could go visit home, etc. . . I won't start a rant.  After 8 minutes and 12 seconds I had to fight the urge to delete it and trudged on a little further.  I could feel the edges of my brain starting to tingle.  Something was forming. At 12 minutes it happened.  Epiphany.

EF is The Real World. You go to a strange place, you live with other people both men and women who were not your choice. You hope one of them will be hot, hoping they'll all be nice and interesting and funny.  You're stuck together through the BS that they call work, through the inevitable lies, betrayal, heartbreak and homesickness. The imminent housemate fight is always looming. In most an incestuous situation with at least several housemates sleeping/making out with/dating each other springs up.
On the show, the casting directors select people with tempers, people who are emotional basketcases, people who are physically beautiful, and mildly interesting. Most range in age from 19-25. They come from different areas of The States, and can only bring a suitcase or two. They drink, but are less often smokers.  They are put up in a gorgeous mansion where the housemates don't pay rent or utilities or even food and drink from what I can tell. They don't work, they whine about their situation and are totally self absorbed.

At EF the hiring "director" chooses people who they think won't be runners (teachers who leave in the dark or night, or on a weekend without a trace within their first several months).  Most EFs are understaffed enough they aren't very picky and take most comers. They come from the US, Canada, England, Ireland, South Africa, Poland and Wales. They range in age from 19 to 55+.  They are single, or coupled or divorced. They drink enough to make the Real World cast look like light weights. EF provides a house in various states of disrepair which you pay then to rent you, and you pay for everything else. They don't care what you think or how miserable you are so long as you show up for work.
A motley looking crew no doubt.
EF is the REAL version of the Real World.  This is true, in shades, for the greater bule population in Jakarta.  The social circles are small and it's only a matter of time before you are seeing the same people again and again.  It's can be incestuous and there is great competition for potential dating options. The biggest catch is we have to pay our way all the way along.

Life gets even stranger

Three assorted notes about the idiosyncratic, aberrant and odd goings on of my life, which in general is so perplexing this all doesn't seem strange (guess who loves the thesaurus?).

Last week a friend here in Jakarta messaged me to help her out.  She wanted me to help her meet and entertain someone at the airport between their flights.  That person?  Mickey Rourke. My jaw dropped open at this point.  I'm sorry, come again? She was helping a mutual friend out.  He had some three-plus hours in Jakarta before his flight to ***** (city in Indonesia) where he is filming. My first reaction was "why not send one of the millions (literally) of Indonesian girls to entertain him?"  He wants someone to talk to.  Hmmmmm.  Okaaaay.
We showed up at the airport an hour before the appointed time and were plenty ready.  Julia wasn't sure she'd be able to pick him out.  The immigration guy took us all the way out the the gate to meet him and let me say, it is so nice to jump lines.  With Julia at my elbow and my heart pounding, I saw him coming down the gateway and walked up to him.  "Mickey Rourke?"  "Yea" "I'm Melissa, we'll be taking care of you today"  and away we went.  We caught JP (best friend) and Bora (PA) as well and then the six of us headed for another terminal.  We settled in a private room in a lounge and settled in for the wait.

They are genuinely cool guys, all three of them.  I got to talk rugby with Mickey.  He's pulling for Wales as he's doing some research on one of their past players. Oh, an he knows someone who knows Sonny Bill Williams, an All Black and my future husband. I'm within six degrees of separation. I got to talk MLB playoffs with JP.  I saw photos of their chihuahuas, five between the two of them.  I answered questions about Indonesia and ******.  I traded money with JP so he had some Rupiah. I saw Mickey in his boxers for a foot reflexi massage. The time flew and we had a blast. In Jakarta, I met Mickey Rourke.  It still sounds so cool to say.

In other news, I've got a Syrian who was calling three times a day.  The trouble is he only speaks about twelve words of English, and about the same number in Indonesian.  I'm not sure what the real point of calling someone is when that's the case.  He was very sweet, but after three days of having the same conversation I gave up and stopped answering.  What was the conversation you ask?
12: Hi. I miss you.
Me: How are you? Apa Kabar?
12: good
Me: How's Bandung?
12: Nothing. Bandung nothing.
Me: Oh. That's too bad.
Several seconds that feel like eons of hemming and hawing. 
12: I miss you.
Me:  Ok. I miss you too.
12: Tomorrow. . . . . . .you tomorrow?
Me: I work tomorrow, very early.
12: Oh I miss you. bye
Me: bye

It makes me sigh wearily just recounting it.  I think I shook him by not showing up at the club where we met over the weekend. It was nice to have some attention, though there wasn't any of the competition I complained about in a post last week.  I just can't do needy.  I won't.

The latest edition of the Bad Korean to English Translations:

Is a recommendations which comes in from the elementary parents meeting. 1. In order for the students to confirm the article of the themselves certainly in low instruction, the map wishes. In compliance with an elementary parents representative is a work last for a few weeks, what kind of schoolgirl (they are 10 grades?)Comes out to this parking lot but the face the article which does not know comes and speaks the name and a grade of the student, your article does not come out today and I does the substitution pickup came, is speaking, the article of the origin student comes and got over a crisis, does. There was like this work even to what kind of elementary student, but in the house confirmation that there is not like that work which transforms said and got over a crisis, does. In the students the face the article which does not know, specially the case where the operation article of oneself is not gives certainly to the parents in order to confirm, map entrusting. 2. Morning the vehicle which comes in the inside the school at attending school time must take care the students who attend school and also must take care. From before the post exchange the bag of the elementary 1 grade student [e] broke by the automobile wheel, does. The above single step will pay attention, proper countermeasure three rights boil under will come and there to be an opinion cotton sending staring will raise and entrusts.

If you made it through all that without getting a migraine or shutting your computer off with a shudder, I applaud you.  Life here definitely isn't real.