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.