Friday, September 26, 2008

Meters, Kilos and Centigrade, oh my

Okay, If I could just take a moment and voice one iddy biddy complaint about the U.S. standard of education for children... Why, why why haven't we been properly taught metric conversions? Why? I have so much I could blog about on this but the most salient point I want to make is it makes traveling to other countries like taking a math test.

I've struggled with this concept off and on since I've been here but I complain about it now because of my two days of diving in Tulumben where it would have been most useful for me to have been fluent in metric conversions. I am now officially an Advanced Open Water diver. I just completed three days of diving, 5 dives in Tulumben for the Advanced Open Water course and 2 dives today at Nusa Penida... a drift dive. For this course I did a naturalist dive (learning about fish and habitats), a wreck dive (the USS Liberty), advanced navigation (swimming in a square pattern with compass headings), a night dive (diving at night), and a deep dive to 30 meters which is about 100 feet. Depth gauges here are measured in meters, water temperature is in centigrade and well, I had to wear 8 kilos on my weight belt. So As you can see, I'm well on my way to finally understanding conversions... or at least having a better handle on them.

So why didn't I bring my own gauges? Sadly my dive computer didn't make it to me in Banjarmasin before I left for Bali... I think it's there now though, but that's doing me no good. So I ended up using the dive center's (Bali Scuba) gear. And it wouldn't have mattered because they all talk in metric here. So it looks like I have to learn Bahasa Indonesian, Banjarese, a smattering of Balinese, maybe some Javanese and of course Metric, I better bust those books! In any case, they were fun dives, I highly recommend these people if you are coming to dive in Bali.

The drift diving was amazing. You basically drop down into a current and just go with it. We went along a huge reef with millions of fish and other marine life. Just amazing. At one point the current got pretty strong and you had to hug close to the reef so as not to get swept along out towards the sea. I'll blog more details later and of course pics (none from below... sorry) once I'm back in Kalimantan.

Advice for you folks back home: Learn your metric!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Changing Faces of Reality

I just finished my last class before my week in Bali. Yes a short vacation is upon me. It does mean I need to get up at 4 A.M. tomorrow but big deal… I'm going to Bali!

I've been teaching now for 3 weeks and have settled into a regular routine of things, for the most part. My class schedule is pretty set but I have other things that have been taking my time and of course I'm always looking for some leisure time to go to Duta Mall with Puji and just hang out, walk around the Hyper Mart and have strange kids approach me and yell "Hello mister!" I told my students about this, we all laughed. They assured me that it's the only word they probably know. I assumed as such but some how I wonder if I should grow a moustache just to fit in with their perceptions.

It's weird how in many ways I'm getting used to it here. My home has quickly become my refuge to relax in at the end of the day. My bedroom eerily has the exact same layout and dimensions of my childhood bedroom growing up. This last week I noticed that out of some old habit from the recesses of my memories I was reaching for the light switch next to the door but only to realize that in this place it's on the other wall. When I come home I call out "hello" to my roommate… a rat, when I walk in. He still freaks me out when I see him scurry across the kitchen floor but I'm opposed to poison and traps so I just keep it clean, food sealed up and assume he's probably eating scraps from the cantina that is shares a wall of my house. He might disappear when I leave this next week as there won't be even a stray grain of rice that was somehow dropped in the frenzy of measuring and pressing buttons on the rice cooker.

Last week I laid low and didn't have anything eventful to speak of except being invited to breaking the fast with the students one evening. They held the event at the auditorium next to my house, drummed, sang from the Koran and then gave everyone there food. Also I got a chance to visit the hospital. Nida and some other teachers invited me to join them to visit a lecturer's son who was sick. We went to the hospital thinking we'd get a chance to see the child but he was in ICU. He's grade school age and has had a type of immune system attack or allergic reaction. It's apparently unclear why, but one suggestion is that it's a reaction to MSG however I'm told this particular condition happens more commonly in older people here. The women talked with the mother for about 20 minutes, comforting her, quite an emotional event to witness. Laela, one of my co-teachers in the English department talked to the mother the most. Both were crying. Just last week when talking about my grandmother, Laela had told me that about 5 years ago she lost her son to cancer. He was very young too. I asked Laela how she was holding up as we were leaving. I told her that I imagined coming here today must bring back memories. She said yes.

Since I will be underwater for the most part in Bali and living in another world, blogging will probably not be easy over the next week. I'll be taking an advanced open water diver class and joining a dive group as well as reconnecting with some Fellows, getting in some bule face time. But I promise to take a ton of photos at least above water and maybe some from below as well and tell you all about it when I return to Banjarmasin next week.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I wish I could be there with you

Homesickness is definitely something I've prepared myself for. I was even proactive about it by packing my favorite chocolate, breakfast oatmeal, and those movies that I've watched over and over again. But the hardest thing I will probably experience is the news I knew would eventually come since before I left. No matter how much mental preparedness you have about it but nothing can make you 100% ready to lose someone important in your life. Just yesterday, I got news that my grandmother, one of the most amazing women I've ever known, passed away: her body was just too old to house her active spirit.

It's going to be hard not to make this blog entry carry notes of sadness, but I think it's important to express that being so far away and doing something so amazing has its costs. Part of experiencing something new means letting some things go: some temporarily and others for much much longer. My grandmother has been the greatest inspiration for the adventures I've taken in my life. She was originally from New Zealand and has always had the explorer's spirit and was also very creative. She sailed, traveled, and continued to pursue her art in form of painting, drawing, photography and jewelry making. AND she could make a mean pie. I am so very fortunate to have learned many of these skills directly from her. I can sincerely say that I know she lived a full life.

I came to Indonesia knowing she would not make it through the year, I said my goodbyes and gave her a hug. She encouraged me to come here, I'm sure she would have been more than interested in coming with me if she could have managed. Nevertheless, it is a loss that I feel deeply. I am lucky to have very supportive people here In Banjarmasin as well as supportive friends and family back home and am able to contact them in an instant thanks to the fabulous net and the intermittent Skype that is at times fraught with delays and echoes. I tried to make as much peace as possible before coming here in knowing I won't physically be with my family at this time but I wish I could be there with you.

Friday, September 12, 2008

It’s Always Hottest Before the Rain

I know that title sounds a little like a proverb but it's the truth in Borneo. I can tell when it will rain based on how hot it gets just before the clouds gather and let loose. I think this is one of those laws of thermodynamics, Cat, you're teaching Chem this semester maybe you can tell me which one. Puji and I were standing in line at the big Macro store, looks and feels like an Indonesian Costco, but you don't necessarily have to buy in bulk. We complained about how hot it was… I said global warming but I realized with her response that they don't have global warming. She smiled and said "global hotting." Yes global hotting here. I asked people and they say yes, they've noticed a climate change over the years. What do they say… "admitting the problem is the first step?" I hope the gulf coast is weathering Ike okay. Alright, enough of the weather, by the end of this month I won't notice how much I need to rehydrate anymore. It's becoming a way of life.

And week one of teaching has come to a close. My schedule isn't half bad. I teach 12 units (about 12 hours) and that's comprised of 2 sections each of 6 courses. All my regular classes meet on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. These students are in the English department at IAIN and aspiring to be English teachers. This semester I'm only teaching skills courses: Speaking and Writing A as well as Speaking C. Each class only meets once a week so coming from the intensive English program at SFSU's ALI where students met 4 days a week I wonder "how will they learn this stuff?" My curriculum plan merely gives a suggested topic which I'm free to expand on or change. For example next week's writing A class will do "basic sentences and compound sentences" and that's all that is in the curriculum for this 2 hour class meeting. They have some books I can use to pull activities from and I brought my own so I'll be supplementing and if time permits, making handouts. Since copyright laws aren't even considered here, it's common to tell students what books/pages you will cover and they go and copy it themselves. I've been lazy, though, and need to buckle down. The plan is to get the core materials up through week 6 settled and then get the latter half of the semester settled once I really see what these guys can do.

They are not half bad with their English and comprehension skills except in the afternoon during Ramadan when they all have that glazed over look like they are ready to go take a long nap and any attempt comprehend English is just way more energy than they can possibly spare. I have a multilevel class and had to explain (more to the higher students so that they don't try to answer everything I ask) that I want to make sure everyone is following. I speak slow, long pauses with simple language, comp check… all the usual tricks. Level A is probably just below ALI's level 42 (which doesn't mean anything unless you're one of my colleagues at home). They are always smiling and look at my height with amazement. And of course attempting to pronounce their names will be my comedy act every week.

On Wednesdays I will run a discussion group with the rector and vice rectors and other administrative staff, at some point, maybe this will start next week. A big word I hear around here a lot is "maybe." Side tracking for a moment, in DC during our Pre-Departure Orientation it was suggested to really look at body language and intonation with this word "maybe." Yes, good advice, but I also realized that most of the time "maybe" really means "maybe" and it is part of the cultural consciousness here. In some ways it's comforting and in some ways very Buddhist (even thought they are Islamic). I'm finding it hard to explain what I mean so I will just continue with listing my schedule…

And on Fridays I have the discussion group with the faculty from all departments. Last week 10 came, this week about 10 but some not all the same people. These meetings are by invitation and optional so it's up to them to come. Yesterday I addressed opinion language and began discussing the answers to their questions from last week, especially the one about families and the idea of "independence" since that seemed to be a hot topic. One teacher asked me about the idea that 18 year olds leave home and parents don't take responsibility of them after that. I said yes, generally/somewhat true, I gave them a general sense of what that means for many, not all Americans and then gave my own story of my dad saying "You can stay here as long as you are in school (college) but if you drop out of college then you will need to move out and you are 'on your own.' Then they got into groups and expressed opinions as to what is positive or negative about the way children become independent in the U.S. They are a very thoughtful group. To briefly boil down the results, they came up with the idea that kids can learn self sufficiency, responsibility, and succeed in life easier and faster, but the down side is disrespect for others and selfishness… the notion of 'too much independence and self sufficiency'. This was a very cool discussion.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

You too can be a teacher of American Culture!

It's been a slow start here in terms of teaching duties and to be quite honest I have been lazy about preparing much. The students arrive for classes this Monday but this last week have been full of meetings where the English language featured was under 10%. I sat through one thinking "why am I here?" Between you and me, had it been in English I probably would have said the same thing.

I had my first class on Friday with the faculty of IAIN. It went well and I felt good about it. I've been itching to do some teaching so this was a good start. I had a hard time getting my brain wrapped around preparing something at first but then ultimately decided a mini lesson on giving and getting directions would be good. I based this on my own experience here in Banjarmasin. I still don't know how to ask for directions in Bahasa Indonesia and don't feel quite comfortable going out without company, so for teaching it was at least relevant to me as a newcomer.

I kept the lesson it simple, a review I'm sure for them but it built confidence. At the end I had partners role play giving directions to a famous place in or around Banjarmasin while the rest of the groups scored them like Olympic judges. At the end of this task., I decided I would give them a chance to write down a question for me that they have about American Culture and that I would attempt to answer it each week. A lighting bolt of inspiration hit me upon collecting these. I though about you: my friends, family, and colleagues who are there in America now (or other places). Wouldn't it be great to have your opinions represented? So I will post their questions for you to view and you may choose to answer as many as you like. Remember, I teach on Thursday US time so in order for me to include your opinion, I'd need your response by your Wednesday. (Just in case you didn't know, I have passed the international dateline and am enjoying the same day of the week as my Kiwi rellies). And IF you are in or from New Zealand, I'd love to include you into "Western Culture" for contrast and increased diversity. My goal by the end of my 10 months is to potentially confuse the Indonesians' current perceptions of the western cultural norms and demonstrate that there are as many perceptions on culture as there are people in the world. So here goes!

  • Do most Americans believe in ghosts? What kinds of ghost are they? Vampire or others from TV/Films?
  • What do Americans think about black cats?
  • Could you tell me about your etiquette in the American family?
  • In history, Americans like sailing/having adventures. Do they still do it now? And what is the motivation?
  • Why is racism always a topic to discuss in the American News? How is it actually the fact?
  • What is the customs for American life in winter? Is it the same or different than Indonesia?
  • Can you tell me about music and country music?
  • What kinds of clothes do Americans wear? (Keep in mind I, the teacher am dressed conservatively.)

Please explain American Culture including norms, values, beliefs, religion, what is right and wrong? (A big question that I will essentially address throughout the entire year)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Wild Rain of Borneo

It's not the rainy season, yet, but it may as well be. It's been pretty wild all day long, the weather. Sadly, photos don't do it justice although I tried. The positive side to the rain is it has cooled down a bit. Did I mention that Banjarmasin has been hot and humid? Well now it's just humid.

I haven't had much to blog about lately since I've pretty much been holed up in the house reading through teaching materials. This is in part because Nida wanted to make sure I was registered with the Police Department before I go out wandering around unsupervised. Honestly, I'm not ready to go around without some company because my Bahasa Indonesia is not up to communicative standards and forget the local Banjarese dialect. So today was the last step in making sure the local government knows I'm here and clear for wandering. Nida took me to the prosecutors office where I met with him and his staff. We had a fun conversation translated between me and the boys who probably understood at least half of what I said.

Every where I've been where I've met someone in their office such as the prosecutor or the Rector at the university (IAIN), I'm offered water, sweets, other drinks etc. Here's where I've been facing my biggest cross cultural dilemma. Currently it is Ramadan, the month of fasting, and everyone who's Muslim is fasting until about 6:30 p.m. each day. Generally you don't want to eat or drink publically in front of a fasting population, definitely rude. So the question in my mind has been," Are they just being polite and hope I politely refuse or is it custom to accept graciously?" It's the latter. This is a very gift giving culture and it is important to bring gifts and receive gifts, all the time. So when the prosecutor asked if I wanted something to drink or eat, I started to say I was fine but Nida made a barely imperceptible nod type of body language that was probably even subconscious on her part, but I interpreted it as prodding me to "yes" and "thank you". I was then offered a generous array of drinks and candy dishes full of various sweets to choose from. Everybody seemed fine and happy that I took some water and was encouraged to bring the sports drink with me when we were leaving. And so the intercultural lesson learned during Ramadan here: if they offer and say its okay, then it's okay to politely and discreetly eat and drink in their presence.

We then went for a drive to the big bridge crossing the Sungai Barito, Banjarmasin's largest river. Continuing on this road would have meant going towards Central Kalimantan. The view was amazing, especially with all the rain and the moody sky. Looking out from the height of the bridge, I could also feel some pangs of sadness for the rainforest. There were big expanses of cleared land that are used for rice fields and other types of cultivation. Sadly, the rainforests of Borneo are disappearing and it's a complicated issue here as it is anywhere rainforests are being depleted. Seeing these flat lands that were likely once full of rich and diverse plant and animal life warns of what I am sure I will encounter when I venture to one of the national parks to search for the Orangutan later this year.

In the city of Banjarmasin during Ramadan, food vendors are set up pretty much everywhere you turn, more than usual. Near the city center is an area where booths with blue awnings lined the street all with Indonesian food: lots of fried chicken, fried tempeh, huge river shrimp (that I believe is a type of crayfish) and other Indonesian favorites that I'm still learning the names of. This was our last stop today. We were barely there 10 minutes when the rains began again, bigger and heavier than ever. I'd say that I'd worry about floods here, but Banjarmasin is already flooded. My house is built over a pond with fish flopping around, catching mosquitoes I hope.