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 informaciĆ³n. 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.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Mastering the delicate art of the Nap

I'm 29 and ready for preschool. I'm not sure it's regression but I love nap time.  Lately I grab a nap at least one day a week, more if I can manage it. Mel's Quick tips:
  • Don't turn the TV on or you'll get sucked into some inane show you don't really want to be watching anyway.
  •  Don't sleep sitting up.  I know people do, but that's a sure way to wake up with a crick in your neck. Get comfy.  Don't share nap space.  
  • Snack after your nap is a must if you have to go be functional.
  • Find a way to remember it's night even though its only 6pm but its dark out. I usually leave something on the table that wouldn't be there for the morning. 
  • No more than one beer/drink before or you won't get up.
  • Specific for naps in tropical countries: pants off, AC on!
  • Give in.  If you wake up still tired and you don't have to go somewhere, then stay and sleep some more.
I don't care what they say, this is not how to nap.  She had a coffee, neither of them look comfortable and they'll wake up more tired than when they went to sleep.
My favorite day for napping is Wednesday.  I can usually grab an hour between school and my business class.  It usually perks me up and keeps me going. I used to nap on Thursdays but lately I hit the pillow about 4 or 5 in the afternoon and either don't get up at all, or get up just long enough to eat.  I  hate waking up starving in the morning.

Friday is also a great day to nap though I haven't managed it much lately.  If I know I'm going out drinking and dancing with the girls then a nap from say 4:15-5:30 or 6 will help keep me up and going without the aid of Extra Joss (think red bull but in a powder that effervesces and tastes better).
I occasionally get the change to nap at work. The Korean work ethic here seems to be more about quantity of hours at work than the actual work done. I'm not the only one.  Some of the teachers get in a couple naps a week.  The Koreans seem to go for the short, daily nap while the bule prefer one a week but a longer nap.  This is with the exception of my worthless teaching partner who had three 3+ hour naps last week.  I'll rant about him later.
Shortly I'll be off home to nap today. I can tell if going to be a tough one to get up from.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Real Reality

I've decided that people who spend too long in Jakarta lose a sense for what reality is.  This may extrapolate out to Indonesia and even Southeast Asia on the whole but I'll keep my assumptions closer to the point.
Jakarta is a city where so many can do so much with so little while few waste much more to accomplish very little.  Here's a clarifying example.  I've seen houses built of little more than cement bricks, cement and corrugated tin.  Restaurants can be made entirely of bamboo with a thatched roof. They are often constructed in a matter of days and provide sufficient structure for their purpose.  On the other hand, the relatively few politicians and wealthy business owners are able to siphon off money from public works projects, from donations, from their companies to the disadvantage of everyone else.  Jakarta was supposed to get a monorail system years ago but the funding, which had come from foreign government investments, disappeared.  This year there was talk of trying it again, with money from Japan and now that's gone as well.  I wouldn't claim that similar scenarios aren't playing out worldwide, but I have a hard time seeing it on such a stratified, rampant level. An unfortunate reality.
For the rich and powerful in Jakarta it is.

The amount of buying one can do here is in the upper levels of ludicrous. By Indonesian standards my wage is very good.  Compared to other foreigners, my salary is pretty low  (middlin for teachers but teachers are much lower than the oil and gas group, the financial clan or any business men). That being said, I rarely have a budget. I pay an ojek driver for daily rides, I take more taxi rides in a week than I've taken in my lifetime in the US and I have a maid. I go out to eat and drink with my friends without a second thought.  I don't buy many things, but lots of groceries. Salon trips happen at least twice a month most of the time. I travel a lot.  The "quality of life" as its often termed here is high. There are lots of things I'd like to do that I can't from here, but there is very little here I can't do. I can buy or do nearly anything.  In the US and Spain I had to watch my pennies so to speak.  I wouldn't splurge $25 for a pedicure in Seattle, but here when it costs $4-8 I can't see a reason not to. Definitely unreality.

Other than putting up with lots of irritations, life here is pretty easy.  You can pay people to take care of almost anything for you. Every business is over staffed, though the service isn't usually great. The traffic is enough to make you lose your mind.  Sitting two hours in a car to go 30 km is mind-melting. The monotony of the weather is a bore for me, and the torrential afternoon rains that will be starting soon are a huge inconvenience.

Bule (foreign, especially white) men can get women half their age and hotter than anyone they'd get at home simply because they are white. Old, fat, hairy, lazy, grumpy, ugly men routinely being chase by young, fit, good looking Indonesian girls. Girls who bend over backwards and put up with lots of shit because these guys buy them things and might provide an better life. If this is reality, I'll tune out.
He might look something like this, but about possibly older

and he'll be dating someone like this.
My wager is that anyone who stays here very long starts to think that all of this, all the insanity that is Jakarta, is normal.  It's not.  I haven't met another soul who things the way things carry on here are in any way similar to back home - wherever home might be! Australia, Canada, the US, New Zealand, continental Europe and the UK.   To those who like/love it here and have been here X years (any number of 2 will suffice), whoopie for you.  Don't not believe for a second that just because you like the inane behavior of the people here, both bule and Indonesian, you can suffer the choking exhaust fumes, you no longer are bothered by the traffic that you will EVER convince me that this is normal and acceptable.
The pollution makes for great swimming opportunities
Floods then move all the trash about.

An average day in traffic
Take a nice big bite when you leave the house.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

All Blacks Haka

As a follow up post to Half-flys and Hookers. There are two versions of the Haka. This is the Haka the All Blacks perform when they are threatened and know their opponent may be formidable. This was two weeks ago before their Rugby World Cup game again the French team. Awesome.

Half-flys and hookers

I was lucky that it was a Kiwi friend took me under her rugby wing.  She was looking for someone to watch the Super 15 tournament games with her. I agreed with the condition that she'd have to spend the our first game together answering my questions. Tri-Nations and Rugby World Cup have followed in succession.
I'm still working out the finer points of the positions but I GET IT!!!
I got the jist of rugby before; it's just similar enough to American football that I got the concept of running the ball into the goal area, or kicking it through goal posts. It's was all the penalties and subtleties that were lost on me.  She patiently answered all my "what was that?" and "what happened there" s over the course of the game.  I'm still seeing something new every game.  The scrums are making sense, I can see where a team get a foul on line-outs, and I'm starting to follow kicking v throwing v running strategies.  I get it now.  I don't instinctively plunge headlong into an NFL vs Rugby argument on the side of the Americans any more. 
Crouch, touch, pause, engage

I'm now a dutiful All Blacks fan.  Before you go jumping on me as a fan who's jumped in on the backs of the most famous, most prodigious team for just those reasons, hold your horses.  The friend who taught me about rugby is KIWI, that means she's an ALL BLACKS fan. Since I learned from her, and watching them, they're my team. A week or two ago I sent her an sms saying that we were playing and I meant ABS (All Blacks), not the USA, who I didn't even know had a team until two weeks ago. And incidentally there are over 90,000 pro rugby players in the US.  Really??

I love sport.  I grew up watching baseball and football.  I feel in love with football (aka soccer) when I saw it live for the first time in Guatemala.  My team in the FIFA World Cup were the Spaniards.   I supported Spain from the beginning and might have been the only one doing so in Jakarta. They won to boot! I'm hoping that the same magic will work for the ABS.  I almost got my American card revoked for not supporting the US then and I was questioned about it again for RWC. When we get to the Olympics then it'll be a different story but until then . . .

I watched the last three rugby games of open play in the Rugby World Cup.  The quarterfinals will start next weekend and I'm excited about it.  I have learned some of the players on other teams and see strengths and weaknesses in them. I was sad to see Scotland knocked  out of play, and even sorrier to see how dirty the Italian team played against the Irish (which made me happier the Irish team moved on).  Great resource for RWC
Plus the All Blacks have the Haka. Wicked cool.
I will unabashedly admit that there might be another reason I continue watching rugby. Sonny Bill Williams and Dan Carter may be the reason I like rugby.  I like the physicality, the athleticism and the players.
Dan Carter, Abs
Sonny Bill Williams, ABs
Do you blame me? Drool.