Wednesday, August 19, 2009


We were met at the Montreal airport on August 4th by Jacques' father. After a year of trying to learn Bahasa Indonesia I've been faced with the challenge of remembering French, Quebec French that is. Luckily Canada is a bilingual country so on my lazy days, I can just ask any waiter, store clerk, or metro attendant my questions in English and they don't even assume I'm American. But listening to Jacques and his family speak, I'm struck with how little I can comprehend when the Montreal accent comes into play

I had been home for two weeks and just sinking into being in my own space and my own world but in Montreal, I still feel like I'm in a foreign world that has many similarities and differences from the U.S. But here I have the comfort of family which is feeling more and more like my own family with their familiar dynamics: His mother's care in buying a basic and useful article of clothing for Jacques' while out shopping, his father's questions on if and how smart we are saving money.

This is my 4th time visiting Montreal and second time in the summer. The last time I was here the chairs we dined on last evening on the patio out doors were covered in snow. This time, after what we've been told has been an unusual summer of we've encountered hot, humid and sunny days that remind me of many days spent perspiring in Indonesia.


After our first couple of days here, we traveled to Quebec City which celebrated its 400th year in existence only 2 years ago placing it among the oldest cities in North America.

The old 'centre ville,' where we spent most of our time, was teeming with people who were there to experience up to 4 concurrent festive events: Nouvelle France where costumed individuals reenacted stories of the checkered past of the early colonialist days; the strings of white tents sheltering the amazing local artisans boasting jewelry, clothing and sculptures for Plein Arts; Cirque du Soleil's newest show, Ovo, which played under their traditional spiral blue and yellow striped big top that stood out like soft served ice cream treat in its industrial surroundings at one end of the port. But perhaps one of the best events we saw was the Moulin a Images, a commissioned art installation for the 400th Anniversary series of events that will continue to be shown until 2013 with the artist Robert Lepage adapting the show bit by bit each year.

This type of installation, an "architectural projection," used a large expanse of grain silos as its play space for creative and historical images and animations depicting the triumphs and challenges of Quebec over the past 400 years. What made his art installation so amazing was its pure showmanship of talent that captivated everyone who lined up on the pier to see. Each evening after the sun set and the light faded from the sky, images were accurately focused along the industrial park while accompanied by sound and music.

We stayed in Quebec for four days returning to Montreal via a small town called Sherbrook to meet with some friends for lunch followed by a 30 minute drive across the border into my country where the language immediately shifts from French to English. This was the first time I've ever left or entered the U.S. by car. The whole experience was induced by my whim: that we could accomplish something so simple yet novel of my entering Vermont via Canada. Jacques is always reminding me to keep my smart comments to myself when it comes to customs agents, knowing that I have an inexplicable (but always contained) urge to be a smart ass at border control. So I refrained from responding to the agent's query about why we had our luggage if we were just coming for the afternoon, my answers revealing nothing but the facts, sir, just the facts.


The road from the boarder to Stowe Vermont is flanked in the summer with rolling hills, big red barns on cute patches of farm that would induce the frenziest of Norman Rockwell painting frenzies. Also along the drive all day I would see huge black ravens cawing from the roads edge and at times eerily gazing at us. My daydreams brought me to memories of my father, how after watching Newhart each week he dreamed of moving to Vermont and opening up a B &B, and how in the months before he passed away in and out of the hospital with his treatments for cancer, the highway to my home town was flanked with black ravens cawing at me from the roadside: a symbol that I had read about somewhere in some Native American lore that death lingers on the horizon. I glared at these birds in Vermont for being too frivolous with their perceived duty of message bearing and brushed them off, letting them resume their contribution to the beautiful landscape.


In Stowe, a cute little town that hosts sleepy vacationers in the summer and skiers in the winter, we set out to find a place for dinner. The light was changing moods to a mystical peach pre-sunset haze with long shadows reclining along the hillsides. It was suggested to eat at the Trapp Family Lodge, the property being the inspiration for the film The Sound of Music. The food was absolutely delicious, finishing off with a maple cream pie, after all this is the maple region. We had eaten so leisurely that it was already dark when we left the restaurant. I looked up in the sky and gasped "Wow, they have stars here in Vermont."


It took us just over two hours to get back to Jacques' brother's home in Montreal which meant it was past midnight when we arrived and everyone was asleep.



The next day we woke late to an empty house. There was a note from Jacques' brother that their mother had called, his father was in the hospital and had collapsed the evening before during dinner. Whatever plans we had for the day were altered; our priority was to go to the hospital to see how he was.


It seemed that nobody knew for certain what was up, was it his heart or something else? After a menagerie of metro and bus lines we arrived in the hospital then meandered through the labyrinth of hallways from the wrong wing to the correct wing where his father was still waiting to hear the final results from the doctor. There's a hollow coldness in hospitals, concern carved in people's faces in the waiting room, people disconnected and silent while hoping not to hear the worst. In the waiting area I noted a list that stated service charges for non residents of Canada, such as overnight hospital stays, examination fees or x-rays. In a column adjacent it noted which were free for Canadian residents, pretty much all of them. Jacques' father would be covered completely and has supplemental insurance to cover extras that he may want such as a private room versus a shared room in the hospital.

Within an hour the doctor had arrived to give his final assessment and sign for Jacques Sr.'s release. It was only heat stroke induced by a full afternoon of playing golf and his not drinking enough fluids: a potentially serious situation but a relief to all of us as it didn't indicate a chronic nor deteriorating medical condition. His birthday is this week as well. Incidentally we all celebrated on the same day as my dad's. I watched him open up his gifts exhibiting an excited sense of glee when he realized it was exactly what he wanted, an almost childlike charming expression lit up on the face of a man that is now 71 years old.

As I finish this post, we are leaving Montreal, flying home via Toronto where we will again go through customs. I will keep my comments only to the facts, Jacques will negotiate his yearlong visa with business like precision, and we will soon be home again to the cat, my creature comforts of home and soon a full school year with a new crop of amazing brilliant students to teach.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Being Home

I returned back to San Francisco on July 18 but it became evident to me that although I was leaving Indonesia, it was not leaving me. After a 7 hour layover in Tokyo, I boarded my flight bound for home. I slowly filed on, stopping behind passengers awkwardly hoisting bags into the overhead bin and found my seat, right next to a young man from Sumatera, Indonesia.

Jacques collected me from the airport. It was around 11 A.M. on a Saturday and as I was more hungry than tired, we went to Universal Café for brunch, a favorite. While waiting to be seated, I overheard a group of girls speaking Bahasa Indonesia who were also waiting to be seated. It took me a moment to realize that it was out of place: unexpected but through habit and history of the past 10 months it somehow felt normal. Ah Indonesia, there will be no escaping you.

People have asked me over the past two weeks "Have you had any reverse culture shock?" My answer thus far is "not much, really." I've come home to the same apartment, same neighbors, caught up with most of my friends, and am enjoying all the food I've been away from for so long. So in returning, I think I can break down my reintegration process into two parts: "Things I'm grateful for now that I'm back" and "Little things I notice in a different way" as nothing really shocks me here, but there's always something to notice.

Top things that I am grateful for on my return:

  1. Hot showers
  2. Drinkable tap water
  3. Daily conversations with my honey
  4. No power outages
  5. Eves dropping on English conversations
  6. Catching up with friends in person
  7. Brunch!
  8. My favorite coffee shops that I can WALK to
  9. Sidewalks designed for pedestrians
  10. Indian food, Pizza, fresh salads
  11. Conversations with my cat
  12. No ants, rats, mosquitoes (okay I lied, I was bit by a mosquito yesterday..)
  13. No mosques waking me early in the morning
  14. Yoga classes, the swimming pool and a full gym
  15. Fast internet

Things I notice in a new way (AKA things I'd forgotten about):

  1. Gratuitous complaining by westerners ( which I'm realizing is a way people tend to bond -- through misery)
  2. Being woken early in the morning by my cat demanding food
  3. Cold foggy summer weather
  4. Young teenage couples embracing on the escalator in the BART station (something I've forgotten was so normal here)
  5. The price for eating lunch out
  6. Political clipboard holders on practically every corner asking for donations
  7. Impatience of my fellow westerners (in lines –queues, traffic lights, crowds, internet speed)
  8. Junk mail

And the greatest culture shock of all in coming home: The budget crisis and how it is affecting education, jobs, our parks, the already sparse and dwindling social services.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ubud in July

Despite having higher prices than I am accustomed to for Indonesia, Ubud is a gorgeous and wonderful place and this is why I booked a one full week of yoga and other yummy goodness here for my final memories of Indonesia. It is also a great place to meet other travelers, an easy place to be a solo traveler so I've never felt lonely and on the flip side, I've had plenty of opportunity to have my privacy and spend time alone: Perfect balance. I've had a full belly the whole time I've been here in Ubud. It's been a source of comfort to me. I am still homesick and I still wish to return home soon but knowing that I am in just a couple of days, I'm releasing to the daily sensations as best as I can. Living in the present moment is not easy, especially as I don't want to fall into complacency nor lose my insight into possibilities.

I booked this trip over a month ago, having already settled my departure date from Indonesia with the ELF program but before knowing whether or not I was going to visit Thailand. I remember the night I clicked those few icons that appeared on the screen of my laptop confirming my registration. It was a hot evening in Banjarmasin, sticky and sweaty. I was hearing the rats play in the kitchen and was thankful that the power had come back on. Feeling a need for escape, I found Balispirit while googling "Yoga Barn" "Ubud" and "retreat." It was the best thing I could have done for myself: A weeklong package including my simple bungalow room, clean and with hot water and a handful of meals at my favorite Ubud restaurant called KAFE. I was given a class pass for 12 yoga or meditation classes of my choice, 2 private yoga lessons with this wonderful teacher named Jane and I added on a bike tour through the rice paddies with Bike Baik.

It was on this spectacular bike tour that I met Katherine and her 7 year old son Tané. Katherine and Tané are from Ireland, Tané is half Maori (New Zealand) and his name means "man." We instantly clicked as a small traveling group, enjoying our bike ride together, Katherine offering her back pack as a place for me to keep my camera and water bottle. Tané has a gentle curiosity about him intermixed with 7 year old boy energy. He rode ahead a lot, took a spill on a tight turn in the road and bounced up like he was a rubber ball, hopping back on to lead the troupe onward. He was always ready with very insightful questions about Indonesia and America, wondering how far things were, how long plane rides were and comparing my answers to his more recent experiences of flying first to Jakarta then traveling across Java with his mother.

The day after the bike tour, Katherine and Tané were planning to see Ketut of the Eat, Pray, Love fame. They invited me to join so tagged along. "Sure, why not?" I was curious myself after having read the book last summer, a gift given to my from my Indonesian American friend, Nani. If you are reading this Nani, yes, I finally went to see Ketut! I passed on the reading however, still feeling satiated from my Dukun experience two months ago in Solo, feeling like I can read myself so much more clearly now. But it was still a fun adventure. We trekked to his family compound both of us worried that maybe he has big neon signs pointing the way but it's still an old hanging sign from the same main road my guest house is on.

We entered his compound and he was in the middle of a reading with some other westerners so we waited patiently for about a half an hour. Tané kept saying he hoped Ketut would tell them that he'd have a brother or sister. In the little courtyard there were two people measuring the buildings and pathways and jotting down dimensions on paper. I told Katherine that I had heard recently they were planning a film based on the book wondering to myself if these people were involved with this somehow. As it turns out, they were measuring the compound and taking photos to send to the studio in New York that will be producing the film. They told me that they will actually film some in this courtyard. I asked if Ketut would play himself, they said they didn't think so.

Ketut's 10 year old granddaughter, an amazing little saleswoman, came out to greet us while we were waiting. She had a small portfolio of Ketut's drawings of a traditional Balinese nature with the creation scene with Brahma and some other scenes. She also had a folder with some of her own done with pastels. They (meaning hers) were amazing, whimsical, colorful AND irresistible so I bought one without bargaining or batting an eye. Somehow I just couldn't tell her "mahal sekali." I'm not disappointed with my purchase in the least. It was inspiring that a 10 year old can sell her artwork with so much charm while insisting that her grandfather's paintings contained magic but that her own did not. I beg to differ. I'm certain my drawing from her has some secret power even if just in its beauty. After we talked with her a bit about her drawings, her learning English both in school and from her grandfather the conversation came to a close, we wished her well and she said "okay see you later alligator." We all said in unison "after awhile crocodile."

Katherine got her reading while I talked with a young Dutch couple who arrived, also waiting for Ketut, the young woman having also read what was being referred to in this courtyard as "the book." One of the 'surveyors' stated to me that if I got a reading from Ketut, he would tell me that I'd live until I was ninety five, get married twice have 2-3 kids…. Katherine pretty much confirmed that came out of her reading BUT that she will live to be over 100. Tané was excited to learn that he will have a couple of brothers or sisters, his mother laughing at the thought. I was excited to learn that Tané has a lotus symbol on his back as part of his positive energy. Yeah, I can see that…

I said hello (and goodbye) to Ketut as we were leaving. He asked where I was from, I told him in my best Bahasa that I had been living in Kalimantan. He asked what I was doing there and I told him. He smiled at me with a big half toothed grin and then looked over my shoulder scanning the crowd of Japanese tourists and the Dutch couple who had gathered, waiting for his healing/reading services.



Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Chiang Mai to Krabi and Stuck in KL

Chiang Mai

The remaining days in Chiang Mai ended up with rain and gloomy skies. That was fine for the spa day but I was suspicious about the day we had set aside for the zip line adventure through the jungle. Feeling a need to relax a bit more, I decided to sleep in, read, hang out with the resident Tri Gong dog named money (who I found out is pregnant!) and was glad for the break. When Susannah, Katie and Ellen returned (and returned early at that) they were soaked to the bone remarking that it would have been more fun if it would have stopped raining.


From Chiang Mai we flew down to Krabi in the south. This area is known for beaches, boat rides, kayaking and slightly less developed than Phuket but in reality, it had everything we could have wanted and much we didn't want. It looked oddly familiar, a lot similar Indonesia but much more developed than Banjarmasin. The waterfront was lined with small shops selling everything from cheap souvenirs to floaty things you can bring in the water and restaurants boasting menus of western and Thai food. And of course it wouldn't be a complete tourist destination without the obligatory Starbucks and McDonalds. A big surprise was the amount of custom tailor shops where from their stoops and bordering sidewalks every evening we'd hear "Hello Madam, would you like some beautiful clothes?"


It was the off season, so there were more vendors out than tourists. It's the trade off, not much competition for beach space nor crowded activities, but it also means the vendors were like hungry tigers pouncing on all who walked by. We went out on one of the big snorkel dive boats, being low season, I had the dive master all to myself and the entry off the big boat deck was not a big stressful crowded even with divers bumping off one another. My unexpected stress during my dive was entirely unrelated.

I was very excited to dive, neither nervous nor anxious beforehand. However, within minutes of going down I felt a well of panic, something I hadn't felt since I received my certification years ago. I felt claustrophobic, my throat went dry from the air and although there were no problems with my regulator, I started to feel like I couldn't breathe very well. I told my guide, Punch who was amazing, that I wanted to go up, so we did and I started feeling better as soon as my head was out of the water. We gave it a second try after at minute and again I was fine at first but the panic crept in. We weren't even more than 14 meters deep! This first dive before lunch, I don't think we were down more than 25 minutes total. Again, Punch was fantastic, making sure I was okay and letting me try to figure out why I was feeling so panicked and claustrophobic. I thought maybe it was because I was using their gauges because my computer was on the fritz, or maybe I didn't drink enough water beforehand and was just a little dehydrated, also the visibility was low and everything was so blue, maybe that was disorienting. But it wasn't until the second dive that I figured out the crux of the problem, a problem opposite of many divers: water temperature.

The water was 30 Celsius. Although I wore only my spandex skin, no wet suit, I overheated as soon as I submerged. I always run warm in the water. In Monterey where my dive buddies need to return due to getting too cold to fast, I'm happy as a seal. I like the warm water diving too, but rarely need to wear a wet suit. At Phi Phi, it was just that degree too much for my body to feel comfortable. I was able to stay down the full hour on the second dive. It helped that there were thermo clines we swam through that refreshed me, and that there was an AMAZING sea turtle that swam right by us that the boat's videographer caught on film. But the feeling of warm water fully covering me felt unbearable at times that I had to stop Punch during the swim so that I could just breathe slowly to cool down.

My last full day in Krabi was spent with the ladies kayaking along the big cliffs of the area and through a mangrove swamp. Maquaq monkeys came out to stare at us and fell in love with a couple from Wales partly because they spotted a bag of "crisps" in the kayak. One monkey jumped on the front of the boat and rode with them for a while, staring intently, waiting for another round of food to appear.

Delayed 6 Hours in KL

As I hammer out these notes of my last week in Thailand, I'm sitting in the Kuala Lumpur Airport waiting for my delayed flight back to Indonesia to announce that it will be boarding… hopefully sometime today. I had higher expectations of the KL airport. The whole experience has been like being in a barn; in fact it looks like a barn. Its expansive, harried and not much rhyme or reason to the shuttling of debarking passengers through the process of going through customs (even for transiting passengers like myself) to claiming baggage, to checking in again, leaving the country through immigration (yes I have a Malaysia stamp in my passport now) AND then to heading towards the gates. Passengers zig zagged and cris crossed through the terminal, all of us travelers with dazed, annoyed looks on our faces as our transitioning from one point to the next lacked intuition to the point of prompting frustrated travelers to stop in their tracks directly in front of others, unaware that over stacked luggage carts were careening directly towards them from just feet away.

Finally in Bali

After a 6 hour delay where the flight scheduled after my own left 3 hours before I did, I made it to Ubud, by 1 AM. It was quite the experience. Tired parents let their children run amok, Air Asia didn't have enough meals for everyone to purchase and didn't think to offer anything for free, not even a bottle of water. In the vein of trying to stay positive and hopeful in my final days in Indonesia, I am closing this post. Home is just a short few days away and I've still plenty of interesting tales to share.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

From Indonesia to Thailand

After leaving my last ELF project presentation in Surabaya I embarked on my SE Asia Holiday adventure. So far it has been amazing. I started in Bali for two days of diving with my favorite group, Bali Scuba. They took me up to Amed which is along the east coast of Bali, north of Sanur where I was staying but still south of Tulumben where I previously saw the U.S.S Liberty wreck. In Amed there are some great coral walls but what made my diving here unique was jukung entry into the water. There are a couple of ways to enter the water when diving, one is a shore entry where you swim out, with all your gear on, to the point you drop down, and the other is a boat entry where you enter either by a big step off or a backwards roll wearing all the scuba equipment. A jukung boat is a Balinese outrigger canoe made from a hollowed out log and the rigging made from bamboo. To dive in Amed, we rode on a jukung out to our dive site. Once there we entered the water with only fins and mask and put the rest of the gear on in the water.

The second day of diving consisted of going to Nusa Penida, an island off of the south east side of Bali. There we went down to see the huge mantas at Manta Point. They circled and hovered over head like giant spaceships. It was eerie but beautiful. Our next dive was in search of the Mola Mola, sun fish, but once again, this special fish didn't come to greet us but many others did including sharks.

From Bali I went to Singapore for a one day stop over on my way to Thailand. It was a burst of high tech modern culture. Having lived in Indonesia for so long, I had kind of forgotten how much fun it was to ride subways and stroll around highly developed shopping plazas. Although I wasn't interested much in lingering in this type of environment, it was refreshing. I stopped in Little Italy for lunch and reveled in the smells of all the Indian spices. On my second evening there, I walked into a supermarket and was amazed at how many choices of cheese there were.

On June 30th, I met 4 other teachers from my ELF program in Bangkok. We spent a full day there looking at the palace, gilded temples and statues, the reclining Buddha, and viewing the city from tuk tuks and a water taxi up the river. I never thought Bangkok would feel so clean. I heard stories about the pollution, the noise and the traffic but during the time we were there, it really wasn't that bad. Furthermore, compared to Banjarmasin and Jakarta, this large city was a sparkly gem! Even smoking indoors isn't allowed in Bangkok and it made a huge difference when we all went out our first night there.

From Bangkok we headed up to Chiang Mai where I am now. It's been great here too. So far we've learned how to cook Thai food at the Thai Farm Cooking School, we've walked along the streets looking at temples, eaten great food and yesterday we did a day long tour including an Elephant ride, hike to a waterfall, visiting hill tribes (which was set up as a bizarre living display of tribes from Myanmar now living in these northern Thailand mountains). We ended the day getting drenched while river rafting.

The Elephant ride was probably the greatest adventure. I shared a ride with Kendra and Katie, sitting in this metal rack seat that had a padded plank, all securely strapped to an elephant. It was pretty high up and felt a little dangerous, especially since our seat didn't' have a metal safety bar to hold us in. The ride down the hill was the most disconcerting as the elephant's weight shifted forward also pitching our perch forward. We held on tightly to the sides of the seat in order to keep from sliding into the muddy path. Once down the hill, it was much easier but our elephant, named Mei Ai (I'm not sure exactly how it was spelled) was a little ornery. She didn't want to follow the rest of the group, she kept stopping and it didn't help that at one point the trainer jumped off walked away (we think to use the restroom) leaving us up there. He did return but we couldn't stop laughing about it. At one point it seemed like Mei Ai was laughing with us.

As it turned out, Mei Ai was pregnant. We were told that she was 2 years along and that she will be giving birth in another year however this information demonstrates an entirely different perception of time that we are accustomed to in western culture. The gestation period of an elephant is closer to two years, not 3. But no wonder she was reluctant to carry us around! I think this experience was representative of the hardest part about being in a foreign country where the customs are so different than mine. First off, we really don't have many elephants in the U.S., but even so, rides on a pregnant animal seems strange and cruel. Encountering different standards for treating animals and human rights without getting too emotionally involved has definitely taken its toll on me this year.

Aside from my constant underlying battle with my personal judgements, so far Thailand has been refreshing and comforting with more food choices, a comfortable degree of cleanliness and lots of great vacation activities beckoning our money. Despite my disagreeing with some of the ways things might be here, I can tolerate it much more easily having lived in Indonesia for so long.

Monday, June 22, 2009

10 Months in Borneo

Well I did it… I just finished the end of my time in Borneo. I left today with a beautiful send off by my colleagues and friends who escorted me to the airport. It was tearful as I know it will be quite some time before I see these people again but we all agreed that we weren't going to say "goodbye" but rather "see you later."

This last week was a love fest. My students showered me with praise, the faculty and administrative staff of IAIN had an official going away ceremony including the full gamut: microphones, opening ceremony closing with prayer and a bounty of gifts that made me feel so humble. I also did my best to do a bilingual speech, English, Bahasa Indonesia, and a smattering of Banjarese which made everyone giggle with pride. Of course I had help in writing it.

I was also given a party in my honor by the PPB crew (language department). They had great food, many photos were taken and I got a chance to say goodbye to the wonderful young and vibrant group of teachers whom I'd been working with this term; observing their classes and leading teaching strategy workshops.

Yesterday I was 'kidnapped' by my students. They took me and Puji to Batakan beach which was about a 3 hour ride from Banjarmasin, near Pelaihari. This was a fun place, a popular holiday spot for the locals with 15 min klotok boat rides that take you to a little island called Pulau Datu, or island of the ancestors. It has a grave yard, short hiking trails and big bolder rocks jutting out of the sea that the students were excited to climb all over as if they were conquering the world. Some rocks offered perfect perches for fishermen patiently waiting for dinner to nibble on whatever was tethered to the tip of their long bamboo fishing poles. Fishing boats bobbed in the distance as well and here the water was a milky turquoise unlike back on the beach which had the churned up color of coffee and cream.

Once back on the beach we ate lunch, chatted, and I took tons of photos of the many things that are constantly going on there. Young boys on ponies race up and down the beach and I was told they probably offer rides to people for a small fee. You can also hire a pony driven cart to take you around the beach and I saw many a family pile in and tour around. Goats wander around eating leftovers and rubbish left behind on the beach and cows were seen wandering in between the groups of people gathered on various tarps spread between the pine trees that offer much appreciated shade from the equatorial sun.

These kids were an amazing group. I loved their enthusiasm all semester. I had them do things they never even heard of. They diligently turned in 8 or more listening logs that catalogued things they listened to that was in English, citing new vocabulary and their opinions. I showed media on global issues and I had them do lots of talking in a class that was only labeled as "Listening." I will miss them.

I am now in Surabaya, Ea. Java. I volunteered for one last presentation on Academic Writing which will go on for tomorrow and the next day. After that Vacation! I will keep blogging even though I will not be in Borneo; my experiences from this journey are far from done.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Waterfalls and Dragonflies

With my time here winding down, I've been working harder to get out and see more, do more and be with friends more. Within two weeks I saw two separate waterfalls, one on Java near the city of Solo and the other near Pelaihari here in South Kalimantan. This country is vast, the archipelago of islands has span rivaling the width of the U.S. and I'm hit with regret that I've not seen anywhere near as much as I would have hoped to, but I also believe it is important to cherish the gems that I have experienced already and those I have yet to experience.

Last week, after my presentation in Pelaihari, the students guided me to Bajuin, about 2- -30 minutes away and up into a small mountain. In Bajuin there is a short hike up a hill that takes you to some fabulous vistas and to a waterfall that courses its way down the hillside in stages, some more extraordinary than others. When I'm hiking in the jungle, I'm reminded as to why I thought Borneo would be so fabulous. It is. We walked up the trail past interesting hairy trees, through a swarm of yellow butterflies, past a rocky vista point where we took in an amazing view of the valley below, all the while dragonflies buzzing in and out of the bushes. My photos of this place of course once again didn't do it justice. A photo just can't catch that feeling you get when you find yourself witnessing Mother Nature and all her amazing beauty and natural balance.

Finding balance is something I've been trying to seek while on my personal quest here. I haven't blogged about this much but I've been trying to understand spirituality more deeply. Before I came here to Indonesia I had visions of shadow puppets telling tales of Hindu lore, traditional dances that discuss the tree of life through animal stories. I had images in my mind of jewelry, batik, and amazing costumes. In some places, all of these rich cultural things exist in a mix of Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and local lore and magic. Sadly, my experience of Banjarmasin didn't match this expectation I had. But perhaps it is being in this place that I've not taken for granted when I do encounter the amazing mix of historical influences.

While visiting my ELF friend Angela at her host city Solo two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to feel some of the 'magic' of this country. It seemed like every corner I turned, every event I experienced contained synchronicity and serendipity. One of the first places we visited was the Sultan's palace. A sister palace to the one in Jogjakarta, the complex boasts it's Dutch/European influence as well as a museum showcasing a variety of artifacts from the region: stone carvings of Ganesh, Arabian swords and knives, a Dutch colonialist era carriage and a shadow puppet display. It is here while looking at all these artifacts that symbolize this region of Java that I remembered my initial images of Indonesia. I remembered that I chose this country for its diversity of art and culture, and it got my mind wheels whirring. We went into the courtyard where there is a magic well with water that is rumored to keep you youthful. We splashed ourselves with the water and I got to thinking even more.

In the car ride to our next adventure, haggling for souvenirs, I asked Angela's friends and our tour guides of the day, Yusuf and Talfiq, if they knew anyone who could read auras. The practice of reading people's energy is very common here. In central and east Java there are the Dukun. They are a sort of shaman that go into the mountains without food, water, proper hiking attire, and they meditate centering their energies to practice magical feats much like alchemy. Yusuf turned around from the front seat and said, "My father can read energies."

That same evening, Yusuf's father and two of his friends who also practice this art of 'magic' came to meet us for dinner. Speaking in only Javanese, translated by Taufiq and Yusuf, I was told that I had a strong aura myself. Ahh, I bet you say that to all the girls… They asked me questions like why I'm interested in this, and asked us about teaching here, what we think of Indonesia… etc. But mostly talked about the responsibility one has when they can read people. A person who reads energies must take care when, if or how they tell another person what they see. It is not in the reader's best interest to influence the decisions or path that someone will take. These men are Islamic in religion but they also practice what the Dukun have known for many generations.

They sensed my intrigue and invited me and the rest of our touring group to join them the next evening for a type of a meditation ritual. I was told that if I wished, which they could tell my enthusiasm, I could open up my own personal energies and I too could begin to read people's energies, however it would be a mystery as to how it would manifest. Would I see things, hear things, get flashes in my mind like a movie? It could all be revealed in time as I practiced the meditations I would learn the next evening.

So the next day, we continued with our plans to go up to the mountains near Solo and go see a beautiful lake and a waterfall. What should have been about an hour's journey there at most, ended up taking longer AND we never made it to the lake. We used a taxi driver that Angela usually hires but his car was not well maintained so it burned up on us on the way, but we couldn't have been in the middle of more beautiful scenery and after a small hike down the road and grabbing ankots for transportation, we made it to the waterfall. We weren't stranded. We had Yusuf with us, our hand phones and even in the middle of where we were in the mountains; there are villages, people, and transportation for hire.

Taufiq came to meet us later half way down the mountain where we had a delicious lunch in a hut built over a river. The atmosphere was like visiting the Shire from the Hobbit, and here I ran around trying to take photos of this amazing place: the river, Yusuf building a paper boat and a dragon fly patiently letting it's wings dry after the rain. I realized in this moment that I was already much calmer in this type of situation than I used to be. A car breaking down in the middle of nowhere would have filled me with a huge amount of anxiety. Living in Indonesia for this length of time has increased my tolerance of ambiguous situations. It was then too I realized I was not only ready for whatever ritual I was going to witness that evening but that this was one of my most interesting and perfect days of my time here.

That evening I journeyed by taxi to meet Taufiq and we went alone to this event. Angela was busy working on a presentation for the next day and Yusuf, although it being his father's place I was going to, has no interest in this sort of event. Indonesians can be very, for lack of a better word, superstitious about things. Many people have told me that they've seen ghosts, seen black magic, white magic… many many stories abound. A Banjarese woman, a midwife, told me a story of being in the Loksado region where she's witnessed babies born through cesarean and the womb was closed with some magical substance the Dyak shaman put on the woman's belly. Puji has told me that her father was also trained in Dukun practices and could talk to spirits and they would protect the family. I was told that some people seek out to learn what I wanted to learn this night because they want the power and ability to control. One of the first questions I was asked when I arrove that evening was to test whether or not I was seeking to gain such power over other people.

Was this a ritual a series of amazing mind blowing events? No, at least not exactly. Things did not magically fly across the room. I did get to hold and see a couple of Yusuf's father's many kris, ceremonial swords and daggers with a curvy blade. If one is made well and with the magic inside, it will stand on its tip alone. His were of this kind much like ones Jacques and I saw in Jogja a few months back. The ones tourists buy cannot balance on their tip.

One of the men I met the evening before was there. He's the teacher or guru of Yusuf's father and I had told them the evening prior that he had looked very familiar to me. I was told through translation that he said the same thing and it was because of our auras vibrating on the same frequency. I never got his name but it was decided he would be my guide. He talked about the 4 elements: earth, air, fire and water and explained that we are made of these and that we should keep awareness of ourselves in this order: body, spirit and intention. If we contain all of these in our awareness, we will become more pure and higher beings of light. I really felt the room vibrate with energy and everything he said made so much sense. I've heard it before; it's the core beliefs of Native American medicine men, the Druids, Celts, Alchemists. At the end he had Taufiq pick a leaf from the bush just outside the window and he began to roll it in his hand, folding it up making it smaller. He said that this was for me as a memory and souvenir of the meditation. He continued to roll it in his hand; I could see this little gummy leaf, cellulose all broken down in his hand. I was then asked to hold out my hand and as he tilted his hand over, out from his hand rolling onto mine was a small emerald green glass gemstone.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Just Another Day as Key Note Speaker

Let me just preface this post that I have no intention of insulting the culture I am currently living in. I work with very bright and insightful people in Banjarmasin, but you can't live anywhere in the world where it's impossible to laugh at some people and wonder what is really going on in that cranium.

Yesterday I did a presentation 2 hours from here in a town called Pelaihari.  This was organized by our students who are doing a two month long community service program in a lesser developed region that is about 30 minutes away from Pelaihari.  The students worked really hard with a small team of local teachers and principals to put this on including a boxed lunch, door prizes, and of course a special photo shoot with a live American at the end of the event.

My topic was on reflective teaching.  In my presentation I talked about how I've been working with our language department teachers on reflective teaching practices.  I talked about how we hold bi-weekly meetings and how I offer my insights as a peer observer in their classrooms if they wish. I gave insights and a variety of examples for participants to try the reflective process themselves including self journaling and peer evaluations.  I had the usual combination of 100 plus participants including a strongly interactive principal who was a brilliant woman I had the fortune of talking to after the seminar. There were also some outspoken and motivated teachers, a typical group shy ladies looking demure under their sparkly jilbabs, and of course the group of men who pretend they understand you up until you ask them directly to answer a question or to offer their opinions/experiences during the presentation.

It was one of the participants from the latter group that will make me laugh until the cows come home (by the way Pelaihari is famous for raising cows so that idiom happens to fit well with this).  It was now the question and answer time for participants to share insights or ask me to explain something in further detail... or simply ask the standard question "How can I motivate my students?"  Now I'm still not clear on the true meaning of that particular question... sure maybe they want to motivate their students to want to learn English but it is always state so vaguely so I've come to the personal conclusion that the asker wants to hear his or her own voice in the microphone. I come to this conclusion based on the fact when I answer with some ideas that are a bit less generic as the question, I'm usually looking into a glazed-over set of eyes.  But see, now I'm off topic much like my participants get... back to the beef.

A man stood up with one of those Indonesian smiles that could mean anything from, "I'm so happy to get a chance to talk to you.." to "Your batik shirt is on inside out, I can see the seams."  His question went something like this, (of course not without its long introduction and the obligatory "thank you for this time"): "When I see this title 'reflective teaching reflective learning' I thought this is a good idea for your university in the U.S. or to use with University teachers at IAIN but I really don't think we can do this in our teaching at elementary, junior and senior high schools in the region of Pelaihari."

Was he listening to the seminar?  Did he take note of my most simple formula that I repeated like a mantra: 'Being reflective means looking back on what you taught and asking yourself what went well that you want to continue and what didn't that you would like to improve on?'  So my response was simply: "I disagree."  I repeated the mantra and then continued to say that this particular activity of being reflective can be applied to any job you do.  Any field of work can stand to have people self evaluate their work and set goals.  I smiled at him that could have meant anything from "Thank you so much for asking an insightful thought provoking question" to "Your head is full of air, I can hear the whistling from the breeze between your ears."

Thank you for this time....

Monday, May 4, 2009

Bisa Makan Nasi? (Can you eat rice?) and other cultural misconceptions

I was at the mini market the other day grabbing some garlic peanuts, soda water and some crackers. I'm used to being stared at by children and sometimes their parents. I remember the first time I saw someone of color as a child and I was so curious. I was told not to stare and given a sense of shame. But here, that approach isn't the norm. I actually don't mind the children staring and then hiding with shyness behind the legs of their mother or father. It's charming. Equally I don't mind that parents don't try to 'correct' their child's natural curiosity. I think I would feel isolated if they did; like I'm something to be ashamed of so I smile and wave, engaging in a brief impromptu game of peek-a-boo while waiting in line at the market. But what did feel odd this week was a question from this one child's parent: "Bisa makan nasi?" Can I eat rice? I really think they mean "do" instead of "can" in this question that I've heard so many times, but it never fails to make me laugh while I try to understand why this particular question. I suppose since I'm a westerner, I'm a bread eater in their eyes. Westerners just don't eat that rice stuff in the world of Indonesia/westerner assumptions.

But probably the funniest interaction I had this week was my solo journey to Duta Mall in the taksi kuning also known as an ankot (a colt vehicle that packs in as many riders as possible). I told the guy I wanted to go to Duta Mall in Indonesian, he said.. oh passar (market, usually means traditional market). I said, "um Duta Mall???" And then he was typical Indonesian taxi driver "ya, ya, ya…" Which usually means feigning understanding.

Some of the taxis do a loop through the market before coming back by Duta Mall so that is usually no problem, just an extra 10 minutes but the fare is still 3000 rp (30 cents). Two men climbed in on the way and the driver approached the turn to the market. The gist of the conversation I got at this point was the men said they wanted to go to Duta Mall, he said he was taking me to the market first, I then repeated I wanted to go to Duta Mall (in Indonesian), the driver said "hunh?" I tried to ask, if he was going to Duta Mall, because now I questioned if the other men were going there. The men sharing my Ankot told him that we were all going to Duta Mall. I understood the driver's response clearly: "Oh…. Okey, saya tidak bicara Bahasa Ingris." I laughed… he'd said "I don't speak English." Oh! He thought I was speaking to him in English the whole time!

This is not the first time I've encountered this sort of bizarre misunderstanding. In placing an order for food once with Puji, the waiter looked at me quizzically and asked her to translate what I'd already said in Bahasa Indonesia. It must be some expectation and panic they have when they see a westerner; an assumption that we all speak English and a fear that they won't understand. My Bahasa Indonesia is far from perfect and I'm far from fluent but I can get by with the few phrases I do know and have had many successful situations, like buying plane tickets by myself: I've always gotten to my desired destination on the day I've wanted to go. I think at times my attempt at good pronunciation has gotten me into trouble as it seemed to indicate that I spoke more and understood more than I do. I've found myself a few times nodding with a strained smile on my face while my conversation partner continues to rattle off a stream of speech I can't understand.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Happy Belated Earth Day

On Earth Day this week I was teaching and played "An Inconvenient Truth" for my students. They were captivated by the data and the images they saw. Everyone here knows there is a problem, it's in the news and we see the signs such as flooding, the seasons seem to be flipping around, but I see a similarity here to what I see back home, people don't always seem to make a connection between what they can actively do to create change. So we all passively are guilty at times for throwing our hands up in the air. We human beings are creatures that are attracted to convenience and it's hard to actively change. I'm guilty as charged. I've bought import foods to comfort myself during my acculturation process and I've been noticing how much non-biodegradable trash has gone through my hands. We don't have a recycling program here in Banjarmasin. Nobody comes with their trucks picking up your blue bin; there are no blue bins here. What used to be wrapped in banana leaves are now wrapped in plastic. Conveniences in little cellophane packages are all over the world, and sadly strewn all over the ground.

About a week ago I was at my friend Yetty's house. Her cat just had two very cute kittens. After seeing these adorable tiny critters with their eyes still tightly shut, we went for a walk in her complex. It was the end of the day, Magribe, when the mosques begin to wail the call to prayer around sunset. The light here can be amazing at that time and this was one of those particular evenings. The colors were so vivid the greens of the plants were practically iridescent while reflecting the low amber colored light from the sky. I captured some amazing cloud formations on my camera and we encountered a vivid rainbow in the South Eastern sky. It is a beautiful country here that has been pillaged by human desires. Logging which was once rampant and legal is now continuing and illegal in many areas. Open pit mining is destroying large parts that were once jungle and my fabulous country is one of many that is benefiting from these practices, if not directly, indirectly through China, Australia, India… many hands, many greasy palms and it's hard to know who's on the corrupt side and who isn't at times.

I try not to be depressed about this. As I say, people here are very aware and concerned and much of it isn't happening in our general region. Borneo is a large island, 3rd largest in the world. I remember my aunt telling me once that sometimes we can only do what is directly connected to us, our own habits, our own environment. In this vein, I'm blogging my annual Earth Day resolutions that I've sent out in my annual Earth Day emails of past and declaring what I've done for my part and what I plan to do this coming year. One thing is I don't drive here. I either ride with a friend on their motorbike, I take an ankot (a small colt wagon that, I noticed one day while gasping for air, can pack in as many as 14 people). I also walk a lot and much to the shock and concern of my Banjar friends. The song "Nobody Walks in LA" really could apply here. Everything is "quite far". I've learned how to make my own peanut butter here and I will continue this practice when I get home. (It's easy: Roasted peanuts in the blender with olive oil!).

So here's to the Earth! I'm interested in what you; my friends have chosen to do to respond to the climate change issue and pollution. I'll share them with my students; maybe our movements will inspire them to make changes here in their own community.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Shifting Perceptions

I went home for 10 days. Home means San Francisco, California, the U.S. It was San Francisco I missed. I was reminded why there are so many movies and songs that center in SF and of course I got to see family. I couldn't have gone back at a better time. The city was just getting out of colder days and exhibiting signs of spring. The sky was clear, the air brisk, blooms everywhere… it was most definitely worth going back and symbolic. Springtime is about renewed spirit and growth. I had no idea how deeply grooved my culture shock and sense of isolation was until I got there and immersed myself in familiarity and comfort.

At first It felt like cheating, as if I didn't really live up to this 10 month adventure. However, now that I'm back in Indonesia with new strength and a sense of energy and excitement for my work here, I know it was the best thing for me. My next and last three months here for this project is the perfect amount of time to finish what I've started. By leaving and coming back I could see much more clearly what I have started and where I am going.

Some highlights of going back to the U.S. included seeing the new Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, Andy Warhol in the De Young, Kitridge in the SF MOMA, pizza from the western world, fabulous wine and cheese, coffee/tea with friends, coffee shops, eves dropping in on random snippets of conversation in English, baking lasagna in my own oven… and the list goes on and on.

Yesterday here in Banjarmasin, my friend Yetty took me out on her motorcycle for a tour of the town. We went to the Kayu Tangi district which is near the main public university in town, UNLAM (remember I'm at an Islamic institute not the big Uni). I was able to see all these interesting places I've never had a chance to go to before. Without a car or motorbike of my own, I'm pretty limited to my walkable region or taking the public taksi kunning (yellow taxi) which is a small colt that has u shaped seating which one evening 2 months ago I noted I was riding in one that had 14 people stuffed inside (counting children on mothers' laps).

In Kayu Tangi we stopped by the cultural center to look at the Banjarese traditional performance calendar and noted there will be some traditional dances next month… but as to the exact date not listed, hopefully while I'm in town. She showed me a good place to stop and get ice cream, she pointed out the Arabic restaurant I heard about that I still need to try and then we stopped at a smaller Indo/Arabic food place where we just ordered drinks, grilled bananas and a roti (bread) that looked similar to a cinnamon pastry but was just a buttery and savory spiral of dough served with grated cheese. Here we holed up until the big rain of the day stopped which luckily didn't start until we were already comfortable inside. I looked out the window under the big umbrella shaped awnings and it was if mitosis was taking place with motorbike riders. Every time I glanced in that general direction, the pack of motorbike riders who'd stopped to take shelter from the pouring rain had multiplied… like the ants in my kitchen.

Although we are coming out of the rainy season, Kalimantan still will continue to have rainy days. It just means it's not as non-stop as was during the months Oct-March. But when it rains, there is usually no mistaking that something is falling from the sky. I've said it before but it begs to be said again, the rain here is intense, tropical, and wild, much like the perceptions of this island. As I've travelled to other places in Indonesia, only one other place has rivaled this rain and potential for flooding: Sulawesi, a neighboring island that too is divided horizontally with "the line."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

6.5 months in (Borneo)

I've been looking around this house I'm living in and the familiarity of the place definitely has worn on me. I see things up that I've collected during my travels around like the wooden wayang kulit (shadow puppet), and the cards on the wall that people have sent me while I'm here. (Thank you!) Although I consciously refuse to call this house “home”, I think I've done my best to make it homey.

The familiarity means that I finally put up with things, but I don't necessarily have to like it. For instance the coffee table being about 3 inches shorter due to termites or that I need to avoid the little linoleum 'pocket' where the shoddily overlapped sheets don't quite seal... a perfect place to catch bits that I'm trying to sweep up from the floor. And to always remember to put on mosquito repellent on my ankles otherwise they get nibbled on during the dawn and dusk hours while I sit at the desk.

I can shut my eyes and tell you all these little inconsistencies in the house where my subconscious critical eye has strolled through daily over the months.... The gap between the kitchen floor and the wall near the refrigerator where at about 2 pm you can see light reflecting in the water below the house. I also hop around areas where the green as astro-turf carpet is beginning to curl from my chair or my footsteps wearing on it's haphazard layout... after all Americans love carpet.
Or sometimes duck in my one air conditioned room to avoid the pungent smell of burning trash tainted on occasion with whiffs of melted plastic special thanks to the modern packaging for anything you buy in this developing country,

There are things I like too, the group of chi chaks (geckos) hanging out on the screen above my stove every night catching bugs attracted to the one lonely compact fluorescent bulb, and there's a naughty ferel cat on my front porch catching the chi chaks who chose that unfortunate area as their bug catching domain, just like being in an episode of Animal Planet. All of this has become normal.

Of course nothing is perfect anywhere, but when you miss your home, things become even a lesser form of imperfection. So what keeps me here and keeps me going? Sometimes the genuine care for other people that is present in my colleagues and students is enough. Other times it's my projects that I've committed to that keep things fun and interesting. And some days none of this is really enough as it is hard to feel like an outsider with a duty that seems to be barely understood at times by anyone receiving my intentions. It's the little successes though that I try to regularly recognize. At my host institution I've pushed and finally succeeded in setting up teaching development workshops and convinced them that my energies for this place are better spent on helping the department to grow rather than merely taking on English department classes or doing regional workshops where our department doesn't get the benefit of attending.

One of my greatest pieces of pride is that I've helped to develop a radio show, Smart Up Your Life, and am one of the hosts and I created many of the materials and lessons for the show. Weekly we go on air, play an original and sometimes silly dialogue with a focus on a few key features in English and invite callers to call in to answer questions or just practice using some of the phrases we taught. It's been a BIG job. Through February, me and two other teachers put out 22 lessons and I have two more to put out by the end of this week. That makes a 24 episode show that will extend beyond my time here.

Remembering another perk is traveling to other locations to do workshops make a difference.. I just spent a weekend in Jakarta doing a workshop at UI (Universitas Indonesia), a beautiful campus. The workshop was for team building where I got to bring in every little fun activity from improv acting classes and tried them out on the locals. It went really well and I had a lot of fun doing it.

Keeping busy, keeping time steadily passing, keeping my sanity one day at a time until I can return to my HOME.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Long Blog Post – Jacques in Jogia, Inaugural Ball, and North Sulawesi

Where do I begin? I know I left out a bunch of information since I posted last. I've recently been to North Sulawesi where I presented at a conference held by another ELF and her host institution and I managed a short weekend to Bunaken where I did some diving. It was fraught with adventure including giant centipedes but I also want to fill you in on the Jogjakarta adventure that happened a month ago and then I'm behind on explaining my professional adventures which also have been brewing madly... including a radio show that I'll be hosting beginning next week... but I'll wait blog this after out launch on the 21st, its the superstition in me I suppose.

... go there. Of course the most popular thing to see in Jogja is Boroburdur and all the other temples. I will need to go back as there's still a lot I haven't seen. Our most exciting story to tell is how we fell into the fun little Maliboro (big tourist shopping district) tourist traps. No matter how the guidebooks warn you, and how much you will swear to avoid it, tourist traps are tourist traps which tend sneak up on you when you aren't looking. It really started when I decided that wanted to find batik fabric that could later be taken to a tailor... not pre-made shirts and definitely not the wall hanging art (which is beautiful) but we were somehow shuttled through the alleys to one of those “you must buy the art now because we are going to Sumatra tomorrow” situations. (my eyes rolling at them, knowing it was a big scam) We actually did end up buying a piece for 60% less than their original asking price... and I'm sure it was still too high based on how quickly they handed it over to us. It was funny too, I had remarked on a piece I saw, that I thought was pretty but I didn't want it. They even chased after us down the alleyway trying to sell it to us me frustratingly yelling back at them “tidak mau! – I don't want it.” And then later, Jacques mentioned to the puppet makers he was interested in buying a kris. This led to us to being taken into someone's home who was selling antique Kris (the wavy ceremonial knives that have magical powers). These Kris were allegedly antique as they told us the family worked at the sultans palace. At this news, Jacques and I chatted outside alone and decided that if they weren't antique, then it was a big scam and if they were antique then likely it was not a legal situation. So we as best we could left the situation politely. Having lived here for a while, I have no problem balancing my smile and my direct no when it comes to giving my money. It is easy to be incensed that they would expect you would break down and buy something you don't want or be guilted into it as the bargaining begins with them pretty much once you set foot into the store. But if you don't want it, you don't want it, and if you do, you must advocate for yourself and your pocket book.

Probably the greatest highlight of Jogjakarta was actually not in Jogja. Near Solo (Surakarta) there are two temples, the Candi Sukuh and Candi Ceto. With Jonna (ELF) and her husband Peter we hiked between these temples in the cooler mountain air, enshrouded in fog, meandering through the terrace rice paddies and farms. It was beautiful and good exercise. The temples too were interesting, old with many interesting yoni and lingham symbols. I think the photos speak for themselves here.

But again, the departure was the worst. At the airport I had to go to Jakarta for a big mid year meeting and Jacques back to Bali to catch his international flight. I was reminded of saying good bye in San Francisco. The worst was, the first connecting leg of his flight was canceled and he had to stay in Denpassar one more night. Had we known, he could have come to Jakarta with me that night.

A modern city. Has Starbucks, Indian Food, halfway decent Mexican food, an amazing brunch at the Ritz Carleton and I went to the Inaugural Ball there. Barak Obama became president Jakarta time right at midnight, the same moment my birthday began. It was good timing.

North Sulawesi

I am waiting for the photos. I left without my camera but in retrospect with my accident prone self (at least that weekend) who knows what would have happened to it. Regardless, with our without a camera, North Sulawesi is beautiful. It has mountains and ocean, large coconut palm plantations dotting the landscape but the natural jungle is still pretty intact. Perhaps it's because it's not super easy to get there and transport the natural resources from the place. By plane its a good 4 hours from Jakarta and Sulawesi just isn't the most driver friendly based on it's topography.

The conference was fun. I presented on group work and pair work. I've done this topic about 3 times now and still find it's different each time. It seems to be useful for the participants, they walk away with a fair idea of how to make their classroom collaborative between students and better ideas on how to facilitate more English use.

After the conference a group of us.. that would have been six people and our bags, rode in hired car to Manado. Once again... looking at a map you'd think 3-4 hours tops, but I would in turn tell you to stop thinking in North American interstate terms... Now think windy two lane Indonesian road and add looking for a restroom, stopping for dinner and having a flat tire. This new equation equals 11 hours, getting us to Manado at 1 AM. I've made an executive decision: I'm done with long car rides.

From Manado, the next morning, we took a boat to the Island of Bunaken. The resort was a divers paradise fraught with hazards at every turn... at least from my vantage point. But really it was a great place, I loved it despite of my welcome fall down the steps towards the beach shortly after drinking my welcome drink (and half of my second beer). Despite of this obvious relationship it is a little odd to have the bar at the bottom of the uneven clifside stone steps that lead up to your bungalows. I was fine from the fall aside from a skinned up ankle that I am still bandaging up but my laptop took a spill and the LCD screen suffered spider vein like cracks. I am now blogging to you on a small new computer that I bought in Jakarta last week along with an external drive. Might take this opportunity to remind you to back up regularly. I still am finding that there are files on the other one that I don't have at my fingertips.

The Worst Pain I've Ever Felt
One evening at Bunaken, I walked over towards Maura and Rich's Bungalow, just before dinner. I stepped on a centipede who was lurking and waiting for me at the bottom of their steps. I don't think I've ever felt anything this painful in my life. It burned, felt like bones were broken and my foot swelled up like a balloon. The treatment for this is hot water. Just soak it. It actually relieves the pain contrary to what you might imagine. Without the hot water, it was a searing pain... even with 800mg or Ibuprofen. I couldn't sleep hardly that whole night. If it was soaking in the bucket, it was too awkward to lay down and once the water cooled off, the pain came roaring back. The next day, I actually dove. My food ached a little while kicking with the fins but there was no way I could pass up the day of diving because it was the last opportunity of this trip and it was a great day.

The first day of diving, it was overcast. It still was gorgeous but no where near the blue and turquoise potential the waters of the area have. I saw black tip fined sharks, sea turtles, fish, sting rays, coral and lots of sea water. On the boat we saw dolphins rhythmically breaching in their rest state. I did a night dive where I saw another shark, the glowing shrimp who just stop and stare into your light, crabs.... I think I decided, I'm not a big night dive fan. It's just so... dark.

So that second day of diving with the blue waters and the light and the drifting currents was amazing.

I'm back in Banjarmasin now. Although classes haven't started yet, I am happy to have this lull in teaching because I have plenty of other things to to. I still have 6 more lessons to finish for my radio show and I have to plan my next semester courses. Busy, busy.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Mid-Year Blues and Remembering Tanjung Putting

I'd been talking to other ELFs and it's the same feeling all around: the blues. We've just hit our mid year point and those of us in Indonesia had a big mid year meeting in Jakarta mid January (see the "in Jakarta post). I've been back in Banjarmasin now for over a week now with no classes to teach until March. I'm missing everything and everyone inducing a lack of motivation despite some interesting projects that are currently demanding my attention. Probably the most interesting project on my plate is I am collaborating on developing and appearing on an ongoing radio show designed for improving English. It's been a lot of work but I think it will be rewarding, I hope to blog in more detail soon as it kicks off. I also have something pretty cool to look forward to: I'm going to North Sulawesi next week to present at a conference and then a small group of us (including two good ELF friends) will head up to Bunaken, one of the best places for scuba diving in Indo. Ahh, cheering up a little just thinking about it.

But, I am back-'blogged' right now with my updates and I've received a few emails hinting that I am letting readers down… Sorry about that. People tend to mention politely that they enjoy reading it when I haven't posted in a while… I got the hint. (Did I mention I've also been compiling grades and more importantly reading trashy romance novels over the past week and a half? I'm busy!) So to appease the dedicated followers, the next long bit you will read will be more about my trip with Jacques through Indo. (Sigh… because he's STILL back in the U.S. and will be the rest of the time I'm here) This will hopefully boost my morale as I reminisce with photos to jog my memory of the details of our adventures. I put up two photo links from our separate cameras.


Tanjung Putting National Park is located in Central Kalimantan. Looking at a map of Borneo, it's not very far from where I'm staying… but once again, travel in Kalimantan isn't very easy. The best way to get to Tanjung putting is to fly from one of 3 airports on Java. Since we were leaving from Bali during a busy travel season, Christmas, New Years, Islamic New Year, our travel to Tanjung putting had an extra leg of 'adventure.' We ended up flying from Bali to Jogjakarta on Java where a driver gathered us up and we were then driven to the airport in Semarang, about 2 hours away. Even though it took more time, it allowed us to see more of Java that we wouldn't otherwise see. The sky was very clear that day and we saw Mt. Merapi, an active volcano with wisps of smoke. I think we got a decent photo of it.

From Semarang, we hopped on a small plane that took us up to Pangkalan Bun in Central Kalimantan. Here, our guide, Pardi, met us at the airport, helped us carry our heaps of bags to a car and then we drove to Kumai where we got on a large Klotok boat run by the crew from the Eco Lodge where we were going to stay.

The boat ride took about 2 hours from Kumai and was quite an amazing experience. It was getting to be the late afternoon now and we were told that there would be proboscis monkeys along the way as well as a possibility to site crocodiles. We never saw the crocodiles but there were plenty of the long nosed proboscis monkeys high in the trees settling down for the evening. The dominant male monkeys basically start a harem with females and unless challenged buy another equally large nosed monkey, he sits pretty fat and happy with all his mates.

Our Eco Lodge package was for 3 nights. We had two full days of going around to the various Camp Leki feeding stations where we could see the orangutan up close. I can't tell you how unbelievable it was to be there. I still don't think it fully sank in. We saw some wild orangutan along the way; one was just hanging out at the mouth of one of the water ways we motored up towards the camp. We followed the rangers, who had back packs full of bananas, up to the feeding stations where many orangutans were already waiting… guess they knew what time it was. At one feeding time, one orangutan even came all the way to the ranger station to "collect" the rangers or to make sure nobody forgot it was banana time.

The largest male of the group eats first. He allows the females with their babies to come too but all the other smaller males hang from the trees waiting for the big guy to leave. It really is a show of dominance and territory. We saw a smaller male come down and steal from one of the females, including from her mouth! It looked like he was giving her a kiss but, no, taking already chewed banana. Even if the dominant male has eaten, he still hangs out on the platform, guarding his treasure. In one instance when the dominant male grew tired of just hanging out on the platform for 10 minutes we saw him take a handful, foot full and mouthful of unpeeled bananas, more than his fair share for sure, and proceed to climb the trees to the top. On the way up, the load was a bit much for him to handle and a few bunches of bananas came raining down for the others to grab, or for the wild boar roaming around below the platform to gather up.

The 3rd night we were there, we were taken to see the fireflies twinkling in the palm trees along the river. They can fill a tree like Christmas lights and was a beautiful and relaxing sight.

The trip was amazing and I'm not doing it justice, I know. But going there was not without its heartache too. Knowing that deforestation is taking the habitat away from all these creatures and seeing the devastation right in front of you makes you wonder how much longer will it be? Going up the river, the right side is the park and full of jungle, the left side is fair game. There are still palms flanking the river banks but through breaks of the trees you can see clear open land that wasn't once so open. This is also something you can see quite clearly from the air. Additionally the Sekonyer River is muddied and polluted from the mining practices. Inlets of other small rivers show you what it was before, a stained water from the natural foliage and palm tannins, looks like a tea, but with the poor mining practices, it is suggested not to bathe in this muddy water as it's full of toxic run off, mercury and who knows what. With little to no regulation and no enforcement of environmental laws if there are any, it continues to be this way.

On the last day, we were pretty tired and ready to go on to the next leg. Jacques was feeling pretty remote being out there... I've been feeling this way for 5 months now. Next in our plan was to come to Banjarmasin and the easiest way was to take a plan down to Jakarta, change planes and fly back up to Borneo. This plan, mind you, was faster than driving for over 14 hours and really didn't cost a large amount. Once in Banjarmasin I was able to show him where I'd been living, he met my colleagues here and we presented a workshop on course planning together. It was a short visit and doesn't really warrant much in the ol' blog. Our next interesting adventure was to go to Jogjakarta… but I'll let you read about that later.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

2. December/January Travel Log: Recharging in Bali

Early, Dec. 27th, I went to the airport in Jogja to catch my flight to Bali, an hour flight that with the hour time change between zones got me there (according to my watch) 2 hours later. I hardly slept the night before in anticipation of my arriving guest. I flew in domestic and Jacques was flying into the International terminal about an hour after I arrived, not counting his need to go through customs and wait for baggage. I waited outside with all the hotel transport people, all of us with overly friendly smiles on our faces as they tried to sell me overpriced transport and I politely declining with my few phrases of Bahasa Indonesia, a strategy to make me closer to them, minimizing their need to pounce on the westerner's money right out of the gate. It actually works… but the key is to keep that smile and say no with your eyes.

When Jacques first came out of the airport, he didn't see me at first as I was in a sea of people holding signs stating various hotels. When he finally saw me, he had such joy and what looked like relief in his eyes. He had a very long trip that routed him through Tokyo. We quickly ordered a Blue Bird Taxi from the taxi stand and rode to our hotel/resort in Sanur that was fully equipped with a swim up bar in one of the 3 pools. Staying in Sanur was the best move for both of us as it was calming, near the beach, many great places to eat and Jacques was able to sleep off his jet lag before the exciting parts of our trip through Indonesia. Otherwise, there's not much to do in Sanur. It's a starting point for diving, maybe kayaking or to get to the other little islands off of Bali, but otherwise… perfect for relaxing strolls.

After a few nights in Sanur we headed up to Ubud, bar-none, one of the best places to go in Bali. We loved our time there. It's so beautiful, getting into the hills with rice terraces on the way, ferns hanging into canyons right in front of our hotel, and the art and food (yes FOOD again) is fabulous. In Ubud, we saw a shadow puppet show, listened to traditional music, saw a Kacek show which is Balinese dance with the chanting of many men sitting in a circle… no musical instruments. Both the Kacek and the puppet show were from the Ramayana story and it was interesting to see the difference in how the media serves to present the events of the story.

Another highlight: I took a Yoga class at Yoga Barn, a great place for yoga… I couldn't believe the amount of Americans who were there! The teacher, American, also spent a lot of time in San Francisco… This was the beginning of a trend over the next few weeks where I was going to not just encounter lots of westerners but Americans too. The Yoga Barn studio is an open air loft overlooking rice paddies and offered a very relaxing atmosphere even though the class was a sweat inducing SF style Vinyassa course.

Also in Ubud I took a jewelry making class where I made a pendant of my own design (see the photos). For the torch, you had to pump bellows with your foot in order to mix gas with the air. This is the technique my grandmother used in her art high school in New Zealand. When she first told me about this process years ago, I thought, how tough! Yes, it was hard to keep the flame steady, the teacher ended up doing most of my soldering where I just did the cutting and designing, and melting the little balls that I pounded into disks. At the same time, Jacques took a gamelan class. He was pretty good too! (No real surprise there). Hopefully in the photo link that says "Jacques Camera," you will be able to click on a video of him playing a duet with his instructor. We spent 8 days total in Bali and really was the perfect setting for us to see each other again and to introduce Jacques to the Indonesia everyone wants to live in.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

December/January Travel Log: Jogjakarta Christmas

After traveling to various parts of this country and living for four months in Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan, I realize this country is one of the most diverse in population, culture and flora/fauna in the world. Having not many countries to compare it to, I can only go off of my observation (and the words in the guide books) to reach this conclusion. But I've seen so many vast changes in culture from region to region, united by one language: Bahasa Indonesia, despite the varieties of language that exists from region to region.

I realized in all this travelling; I heart Jogjakarta (also spelled Yogyakarta and called Jogja for short). This city has quite the mixture of both Islam and Christianity. It is a region that still has imprints of Buddhism (See Borroburdur) and Hinduism. When you go to Jogjakarta you can stock up on the region's batik, see traditional dances, hear the gamelan, wayang kulit shows (shadow puppets) and visit temples. My first visit to Jogja, I did none of those things. I stayed with ELF Angela at a swank hotel, slept off months of tension and culture shock/adjustment, and ate fabulous buffet breakfasts… essentially fattening up for Christmas.

ELF Ben hosted a Christmas party at his house in Jogja. We sang carols, drank wine, did a gift exchange where I ended up with a wire sculpture of a stand up base player. The attendees ranged from Fullbright English Teaching Assistants (Americans), Indonesian students, and a group of Senegalese who shared with me their own experiences of standing out on the street and incidences of Indonesian stereotypes and racism. I guess it's everywhere, why else would it be a center of the topic of the "First Black American President" all over the world! Outside first, inside later…

The party was great and apparently lasted long after I left. It was nice and important to be around many people who come from the same traditions. Additionally it was important for me to talk to many others who were curious enough to be part of the traditions as it served to help me understand myself and some of my culture shock and adjustment better. As a result, the pang of not being around my family or Jacques for Christmas was a little easier to handle and I understood quite deeply that there are times one needs to find their 'people and traditions as well as some comforts that remind you of home and your history. Sounds cliché to say this, but we are the sum of our experiences and this seems to be key in understanding cross cultural differences and adjustments.

So my first trip to Jogja lasted only a few days mingling through the western comforts and running errands in the local mall. It ultimately served as a springboard for the following weeks where I travelled with Jacques. I saved the art, culture and temples to be explored with him, in fact the anticipation at that point was so intense, I don't think I could have enjoyed experiencing anything beyond good food and reconnecting with the teachers, sharing our mutual experiences of adjustments. Meanwhile in the back of my mind the countdown was running: days, hours, minutes until he would be in Indonesia with me.

Monday, January 19, 2009

In Jakarta

Its now 3 weeks into January and there's so much to tell. I'll start with where I am today but it may take a full week to upload pictures and let you know where I've been for the past month.

Right now, I'm sitting in ELF Maura's luxury apartment in the Mega Kuningan area of Jakarta. This is the final stop to all my mid year adventures in Indonesia before going back to my site. Tonight is the Inaugural Ball at the Ritz and one of the most exciting things about it is, once midnight, when Obama speaks and gets formally inaugurated, it will also be my birthday. So a fancy event, a new president, the Ritz… I think I'll survive.

Jakarta is a very big city without a shortage of things to do. Perhaps the best thing about being here is the options for good food! This has been the story for me over the past few weeks, good eating at good prices. I'm sure I gained a few lbs, even with all the walking around. Last night we had Indian, lunch yesterday: Mexican that was surprisingly like home, and if you are into it, there's every fast food and donut place in the world here… and of course Starbucks which I might head down to in a moment and grab a coffee. All these things mentioned, including the Ritz, are in walking distance to Maura's apartment building.

Also within walking distance is the SOS medical clinic. I saw this clinic from the inside in person yesterday. During my travels with Jacques, I ended up with a nasty sore throat that lasted 8 days… luckily I was fine otherwise so it only hampered my enjoyment of swallowing said good food. I did see a doc in Jogjakarta who gave me some antibiotics that cleared up the throat but I was still coughing up a lung getting here to Jakarta. Even though I knew I was on the mend, the medical facilities in Jakarta are much better than those in Banjarmasin and I just wanted some peace of mind, which I got, including a throat swab that threatened to make me gag, lab test, more antibiotics and my blood pressure is normal! The clinic was so professional: I thought I was back in San Francisco. So now I'm just relaxing in Jakarta…if you can in fact really "relax" in Jakarta. Looking forward to a great speech tonight and hitting the age of 36.