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.