24 August 2009

Doing the New Teacher Dance

Okay guys, let's crunch these numbers: while only 10 students showed up to Section A of my General English course last Wednesday, 25 showed up to Section B today.  While I had been given the impression I'd have about 30 students in last week's class, I was given the impression I'd have about 15 students in this morning's class.  When it rains it pours, right?

Some highlights from Section B's "write a 4 word sentence to describe yourself" intro activity:

"Like for buy anything"
" A fanatic football lovers"
"The friends making maniac!"
"Like pink and pig"
"I confuse about everything"

And there are 20 more where those came from.  The class went okay, but this was a rowdy, mischievous bunch and I felt shaky handling so many more (and louder) students, disoriented and caught off-guard.  We didn't have time to start the first lesson after our field trip to the desk to get everyone's lesson book dissolved into chaos, which means on the first day I'm already behind schedule and I'll have to figure out how to catch them up.  I still feel very new at this teaching thing.  Basically, I confuse about everything, too.  

On the flip side, I taught my first class in the language school this afternoon (the language school classes are separate from my General English classes, which are through the university) and my student count came to a grand total of -- drum roll, please -- 4.  So then I got nervous all over again, and for the opposite reason, as having only 4 students puts a lot of pressure on me, as the teacher, to have a firm grasp on what the heck I am doing.  Which, I've accepted by now, I basically don't.  I was reminded of the Queer Theater seminar I signed up for my last semester in college -- originally 8 students had enrolled (according to the registrar's website), but that number dropped to 3 by our first class meeting.  About two weeks into the semester, after we had started meeting in our professor's office sitting around a small square card table, I realized I wasn't going to be able to juggle this elective along with my thesis (especially if I was going to have to read each week's several hundred pages of reading carefully enough to be able to sustain a three-hour discussion on it with two other students) and so mournfully, but necessarily, dropped the class. And then there were two.  Later I found out that one of the two remaining girls also dropped, thereby leaving the one lone student, who happened to be writing her thesis on Angels in America, with basically an entire semester of free, thesis-specific private tutoring.  Sometimes these things just work out.

It worked out for me too, in the end, as my 4 language school students turned out to be a lively but polite group, with generally pretty advanced English skillz.  We read an article about a famous expedition to the South Pole, and after discussing it and doing some grammar/vocabulary activities focusing on the difference between nouns, adjectives and adverbs, we ended the class by playing a game I had made up and lamely titled, "Word Race."  Now there's some serious imagination at work. The game is less lame than its name, though, at least in my opinion (and yes, I do have a genetic predisposition to unconsciously fashion sentences with internal rhyme).  Basically, I had them close their eyes while I wrote 5 adjectives down on the board.  On my count of three, they opened their eyes and "raced" to convert the adjectives to nouns as fast as they could.  The "race" turned out to be my giving them about 3 minutes while they chewed on their pens and considered and re-considered their answers, and then calling on someone to brave the front of the room and share their results with the rest of us ... but still, I think they enjoyed it.  Enough to stay 5 minutes late and do it again with different words and the reverse conversion, at least.  In any case, it felt like a small victory after a long and somewhat discouraging Day Two -- one moment in which I made a teaching decision that seemed to click.  Even if I confuse about most things, maybe there's a couple things I know how to do right. I'll have to work on classroom management and game-titling, obviously, but hey -- baby steps.  I'll take what I can get.

19 August 2009

The Most Wanted Job in the World?

It was my first day of school today.  It began much like all the other first days of school in my life: I woke up at 6AM sharp totally disoriented by the sound of my alarm after one long summer, quickly remembered why my alarm was going off and rolled out of bed, jumped in the mandi and mildly freaked out as the first bucket of cold water hit my skin (okay, maybe that part wasn't like all my other first days of school), dressed myself in the outfit I'd laid out the night before, messed with my hair for 2 minutes longer than was necessary, shoveled a banana into my mouth, grabbed my backpack, and was out the door.  Pretty much standard as mornings before the first day of school go -- except this time, I was the teacher.

I got to school at 6:45, with 15 minutes to spare before class in which I found the key to my classroom, turned on the air conditioning, wrote "Mbak Fiona" on the board and went on a hunt for some plain printer paper, which I was thankfully able to track down many hand gestures and three colleagues later (the English-speaking student staff who normally triage my incomprehensible requests weren't in the office yet, but luckily Bu Bening came to my rescue).  I had been led to believe I would have around 30 students in this class, give or take, so by 7:10 when only ten of them had shown up I was getting a little confused.  I had planned the first half of my lesson around the understanding that roughly three times this many students would be introducing themselves, and therefore had budgeted that section of my two and half hour class accordingly.  In my mind the word "Recalculating..." blinked on and off, just like it does on the GPS screen in my mom's Honda Odyssey when you make a wrong turn.  I guess this is called "thinking on your feet."

No biggie, I got this.  As my mind continued to recalculate in the background, I introduced myself, welcomed the students to my class, and explained the icebreaker get-to-know-you activity I'd planned for them (as well as for the 20 of their peers who apparently couldn't make it).  The activity, which I'd gotten out of PiA's "Lessons that Work" book (thanks, PiA), involved each student coming up with a 4-word phrase to describe themselves or some aspect of their personality they wanted people to know about.  My example was "All over the world," since "I like to travel, and I come from the United States but I lived for a little while in Spain and now I live in Indonesia."  Obviously a stretch, but who's counting?  I passed out my hard-won printer paper and waited for the gems to roll in.  I admit I was secretly hoping for the truly bizarre and hilarious 4-word phrases "Lessons That Work" had promised me, but most of the students actually followed the assignment almost too well, coming up with solid, standard responses such as "I always feel happy" and "Music is my life."  It must have been my lame example -- I probably should have written something like, "Once had buzzed head" or "Masks obsessive-compulsion well." Despite my bad example-giving skills, however, a few of the students did venture in less-chartered waters, with phrases such as "Like to add friends" (has the "Add Friend" function on Facebook stealthily co-opted the English verb "to make friends with?" Uh oh ...) and "Queen of the World" (well YOU aren't cutting any corners, now are you).  

At the conclusion of this activity, I found I was running -- oh, let's see, only about 30 minutes ahead of schedule.  (Recalculating...)  Luckily for me, this was the point in the lesson plan where we took a break for the students to go purchase their workbooks from the front desk.  Going over the class rules and syllabus took about as much time as I'd thought it would, so we started the first lesson right on time, half an hour early.  The first lesson in the book I am teaching this class out of was called "The Most Wanted Jobs in the World," and began with a short article about Peter Lind, a "Flavor Development Specialist" at Ben & Jerry's, complete with a black-and-white photo of a man holding about 4 heaping ice cream cones.  I had the students read the article out loud and then we discussed the job of Flavor Development Specialist, which, as you might guess, is apparently one of the world's most wanted. Interestingly, my students all seemed to think this was a terrible job, since tasting ice cream all day would just make you "have cold" and "get fat."  It seems ironic that the job of ice-cream tasting would be scorned by a group of college freshmen who come from a city where you can buy grilled buttered bread stuffed with cheese and chocolate on the street and every other food item is fried, but hey. Who's counting?

The vocabulary review exercise that followed this discussion ended up taking much longer than I had planned on, so in the end we came out even.  Perfect.  I was a little bit worried that this exercise was boring for them, but they seemed lively enough -- and if the book wants them to know the meaning of the words "sensitive taste buds" and "commercial quantities," then I guess I should try to go along with it.  I'll just have to figure out how to inject these lessons with a little bit more personality -- "Song of the Day," maybe?  Or "Slang of the Day?"  Like, "Dude, your job is totally bomb!"?  We'll have to see.  I wrapped up the class with a warm-up for their first assignment (come again, I'm giving ASSIGNMENTS?) which was to brainstorm a list of some jobs they would really like to have, so that when it comes time for them to write me 1 to 2 paragraphs answering the question "What is your dream job and why?" they'll be ready.  In our brainstorm, most of the repeating themes revolved around the jobs of CEO, secretary, and superstar.  Go figure.  Oh yeah, and one of my students threw in "Teacher."  Was she for serious?  Who knows.  It's a little early for me to weigh in, but I'd say the chances aren't looking half bad.

14 August 2009

Tour de Indo (or: Adventure of the Week)

So, as it turns out, my arrival in Jogja seems to have been extremely well-timed.  [Side note: I'm experimenting with the spelling of Yogya/Jogja -- although the two spellings are both correct and interchangeable, I'm starting to feel like going with the phonetic version might be easier ... we'll see.]  My classes start in five days, which means that until then I'm just taking my time getting adjusted and playing tourist -- generally this is an awesome way to spend one's time, except "tourist" is a game that is really no fun to play by yourself.  Luckily, I haven't had to play it by myself.  There were two other Shansi fellows visiting Emma/Jogja this week -- Michelle, who is about to start her second year in Banda Aceh (on the northernmost tip of Sumatra, which is the big island west of Java) and Anne, who is about to start her second year in China -- and although they left this morning for Aceh, sadly, I still got the chance this week to figure out that, as luck will have it, they are both pretty rockstar adventuring partners.

This blog post's featured installment of said adventure began at 8AM on this past Tuesday morning, and took the form of a four hour bike tour through a cluster of small farming villages on the outskirts of Jogja.  Annie and I met up with Michelle and Sarah (who's going to be the first-year Shansi fellow in Michelle's post, but is in Jogja for two months doing language study) at this café downtown called ViaVia, where they run these tours out of.  The café is pretty touristy, with a Western menu and English-speaking staff, but has a really nice atmosphere and organizes all these awesome cultural activities to help foreigners get a deeper taste of Java, including batik workshops, cooking courses, city walks, temple trips, and, of course, bike tours.  (It's actually part of a larger network of ViaVia cafés all over the world -- there are a couple in Africa and South America, and even one in Spain!  Too bad I didn't know that while I was there.)  Our guide was Dita, a round-faced, smiley young Indonesian woman (although generally Indonesians are always smiling all the time -- too bad Thailand got to the nickname first).  After introductions, we headed to the "garage" to pick out our bikes, which turned out to be an open courtyard across the street with a bunch of old-school bicycles with the curvy handlebars and scooping "women's bike" frames.  There weren't a whole bunch that were small enough for me, but I picked out a sweet peach-colored bike which was adorable, although the brakes were a little sketchy.  I figured if I really had to make an emergency stop, I could always swing my legs through the scooped out frame and do it foot-to-ground style.  That's what those frames are built for, right?

We had to bike for about 15 minutes on a larger road heading out of Jogja, but then we turned off the main road onto this little dirt lane and it was like someone had flipped the metropolis switch.  Within about thirty seconds we had totally left the traffic and bustle of the city behind, and were weaving our way through a little village of tile-roofed houses and dodging chickens as they crossed the road.  It really gave a whole new meaning to the old joke, and the answer went something like "Because something yummy to scrounge around in the dust for was on the other side, and wouldn't it be thrilling to almost get hit by an old Dutch bicycle while trying to get to it."  Part of the tour was a chance to check out some of the "house industries" in these villages, and our first stop was a krupuk factory.  "Krupuk" are these Indonesian rice cake chip things that are made from tapioca flour (I think?) and various seafood flavorings, such as fish and shrimp, and by "factory" I mean a family's garage where they manufacture these things by the thousands and sell them to markets in Jogja.  The basic process involves first making the dough, which they then stuff into this cylinder with a wheel on top, and when you spin the wheel it compresses the dough and squirts it out the bottom of the cylinder in a long dough noodle.  There was one dude sitting on top of the machine spinning the wheel with his foot and fanning himself while jamming to Indonesian pop music (basically the hooked up job) and three guys squatting under the cylinder catching the dough noodle on the tops of little circular cans to make the krupuk pieces as it squirted out (basically the shaft job).  After they formed the krupuk, each of which look like an oval of intricately folded noodle yet take approximately 1.5 seconds each to catch from the noodle squirter machine, they steam them and then lay them out on these huge crates in the yard to sun-dry for two days.  Here's a picture of the krupuk lying out to dry:

After drying, they deep-fry the krupuk (as they do with pretty much every other food item in Indonesia) which causes the little pieces to puff up into these huge crunchy, shrimp-flavored chips, and ta-da -- krupuk.  We got to "help" the guys make a few from the noodle-squirter machine, which was a total disaster, and then we got to try some finished ones, which were pretty tasty (even if it was a little early in the morning for shrimp chips).  We thanked the family for the snacks, and then it was back on the bikes.

Our next stop was at a small compound of stables where a bunch of farmers kept their animals.  We hung with the cows for a while and ooed and ahhed over the baby chick(en)s that scampered around our feet.  By far the most amusing element of this stop was watching a baby calf, whose mother had died, suckling on the udders of a different calf's mama.  Every few minutes the calf would chomp down on the udders and/or butt the mama in the abdomen with its head, at which the mama would kick her back leg a little bit, and go back to drinking out of the bucket one of the farmers had in front of her.  This looked extremely painful, but also typical of bovine motherhood.  Go figure.

Next up was a rice field where, again, we "helped" the farmers shuck the rice, which basically involved beating the rice plant on a board so that all the rice grains flew off and were collected in a big tarp underneath.  There was also a machine that let the farmers separate the rice grains from the plant by placing the plant through the spokes of a madly spinning wheel (you can see it in the bottom right-hand corner of this picture) but we were told that using the machine could basically chop our fingers off if we weren't careful and accidentally let go of the rice plant, which wasn't a risk any of us were willing to take.  So we stuck to "helping" manually.

After the rice harvest we biked to the house of some women who were making tempeh, which are these little soybean cakes kind of like tofu but more crunchy, and are a staple of the Javanese diet.  Snacks abounded here as well, as we were taken back to a tiny kitchen where a girl who was probably about 12 years old fried us up tempeh and served it to us straight out of the skillet.  Mm mm good.  Snacks did not abound at our next stop, however, which was at a brick-making factory (factory, in this case, was a little field by the side of the road).  But while we didn't get to snack, we did get to make bricks, which involved squelching our hands into a bucket of mud and then plopping some mud down into an eight-brick mold on the ground, wiping down the top of the mud blocks with water, picking up the mold and doing it again.  After the bricks dried in the sun for a while, they would be moved to a huge furnace the size of a small cottage and baked under straw.  The best part of brick-making was making the divots on top of each wet brick to help them fit together better once they were dry -- instead of divots, obviously, we wrote our initials in the mud, so as to permanently inscribe our identities on the island of Java.  Sure, they'll be inside a brick, but they'll be there.

As our tour was wrapping up, Dita realized her bike had a flat tire, so after asking some village kids where the nearest garage was, we made our way to the house of an old man who apparently could patch Dita's tire.  While we waited, we sat across the street on a children's swing-set and made friends with an Indonesian mother and baby boy, which mostly involved flirting with the baby.  While we flirted, the mother knocked some small fruits off a nearby tree and shared them with us, which was totally awesome of her though I wasn't sure what they were -- later Michelle told me it was "water guava," whatever that is.  Can't keep all my tropical fruits straight, dontchaknow.

With Dita's tire patched we were back on the road, back out of the villages, back into Jogja and back to ViaVia.  Sarah was only about one hour late for her language class, but that's how time runs on this island.  Though the tour was obviously a tourist activity and more than five times the price of what I normally spend on dinner (coming to a grand total of about US $8), I'd say it was totally worth it to get to see a different side of Jogja -- a quieter, more peaceful one, one without the zipping motorbikes and careening buses and cell phone stalls on every street corner, where chickens can cross the road and actually have a hope of making it to the other side.  Minus the brake-less Dutch bicycles, of course.

07 August 2009

The "Real Deal," Whatever That Is

One of the candidates for the title of this blog, before I decided on "Indo the Wild," was "The Motorbike Diaries."  It was meant to be a riff on the title of the Latin American film "The Motorcycle Diaries," which follows Che Guevara and a buddy of his as they embark upon a huge motorcycle tour of South America, ultimately leading Che to discover his true calling as a revolutionary.  I was going to change "motorcycle" to "motorbike," since in SE Asia (Indonesia included) everyone drives these little motorbikes around EVERYWHERE -- part of what, I've found, makes walking around Yogya fair game for classification as a death-wish.  Ultimately, however, after much polling of friends and family and a serious heart-to-heart with myself, I decided that "The Motorbike Diaries" was just too cryptic -- people didn't easily get the joke -- and was also not entirely accurate, as I do not yet have access to my own motorbike.  Additionally problematic was the fact that "themotorbikediaries" was not an available URL on blogspot.  I took that as a sign that, as is so often the case, my first idea was the best one.  Back to square one.

Last night, however, I finally got my first ride on a motorbike!  My housemate Emma, who is beginning her second year in Yogya with Oberlin's Shansi fellowship program, was going to meet some of the other Shansi fellows for dinner and invited me along.  And not only does Emma have dinner plans -- she also has a motorbike.  Score.  Queenie helped me borrow a helmet from the "kos" (women's boardinghouse) next door, and as I was zipping downtown on the back of Emma's bike with the fresh air blowing in my face, all I could think was, Now THIS is the way to get around.  It totally beat walking through the hot crowded streets, and I'm still pretty lost on the bus system (which shuts down at like 6PM anyway).  I might have to investigate this whole motorbike thing further.

We met up with everyone at this vegetarian restaurant called Milas, which basically services tourists (the menu was in both English and Indonesian, and there were a bunch of French people there eating too), but it was really beautiful and quaint, with a garden and fountain in the center and little gift shop on one side.  I met a couple of the Shansi fellows who are based in Banda Aceh on Sumatra (my friend Dylan is also posted there through PiA) but who are just visiting Yogya for a few days, as well as Brittany and Patrick, the first-year Shansi fellows in Yogya.  The menu had some really great looking American-type vegetarian dishes and I was tempted for a second, but I ended up ordering an Indonesian dish with pumpkin, rice, and fried egg (which was really delicious) for the sake of authenticity.  When in Rome, right?  Hanging out with the Shansi fellows at this restaurant that could have just as easily been in San Francisco as Yogyakarta, however, got me thinking about what it means to have an "authentic" experience in a foreign country.  It was probably the best time I've had in my five days here, because it was while eating dinner with them and talking about American stuff that I felt most at ease, safe, and comfortable.  A lot of my anxiety and sadness just washed away for those few hours.  And I couldn't help wondering where you draw the line between letting yourself have experiences that you know will comfort you in a new place, and pushing your boundaries to reach for that authenticity.

I remember struggling with this same question while I was in studying abroad in Spain as well, but I think my thoughts -- or maybe just the circumstances -- have changed.  While I was in Spain, I felt that my time there to get immersed in Spanish culture was limited, so I made a point to avoid as many American things as possible: no Starbucks, no American TV, no pancakes, no English.  But that was a very particular situation -- I was in Madrid with a bunch of other American students who were basically built-in friends, and Madrid is a big European city with a lot of American influence and presence.  And I was only there for four months.  Here, by contrast, there is very little American presence, and, apart from my housemates (who have their own separate lives already anyway), I have no built-in friends.  So when I caught myself feeling a little bit guilty for "indulging" in this evening spent with Americans eating Americanized food and talking about American stuff instead of being out having some really "authentic" Indonesian experience, I had to remind myself that my chances for those authentic experiences will come with time, and for now if a dinner with some American kids makes me feel better, then I shouldn't really feel guilty about it.

I woke up this morning feeling sad again (mornings are the worst, I've noticed, probably because I wake up and have to wrap my mind around the whole situation all over again) but I'm trying to hang on to the fun I had last night, and hoping to create more this weekend.  Also hopefully I can get to know Brittany and Patrick better (who have only been here for two months, as opposed to the year or two of all of my housemates) and then I'll even have some new friends to share those authentic Indonesian experiences with.  Maybe even on a motorbike.  

05 August 2009

You're Up Then You're Down ... or Vice Versa

A good example of just how much of a crazy person a combination of jet-lag, homesickness, and the travel bug can turn you into is the day I had today.  I've been sleeping lightly the past few nights (which mostly means I wake up sometime between 3:30 and 4:30 AM and do mental math to calculate what time it is in all the different time zones in which I have loved ones until I fall back asleep), but last night was particularly bad.  I woke up at about a quarter to five and basically tossed and turned until around 7, when I decided to get out of bed.  I felt stressed about something, but I couldn't put my finger on it.  There was going to be a welcome lunch for me at my school this afternoon, which I was a little nervous about, but there was no reason to be feeling this miserable.  The fit hit the shan when I opened my computer and checked my email, to find that I'd narrowly missed an opportunity to audio chat with my Dad the night before by going to bed about 20 minutes too early.  Up until this morning I'd been able to hold my homesick tears at bay for the most part (only a few rogue ones escaped in Hong Kong) but the dam was a-burstin'.  I recalled something my friend Krista, who's spending this year in Tanzania on a Princeton in Africa fellowship, told me about her own adjustment period: that what helped most was to not fight or ignore the sadness, but to not dwell in it either.  So taking that cue, I let it all out of my system for about five minutes, then resolved to push the Off button by going to have a nice cold bucket shower.  My nice cold bucket shower did help, miraculously, and I was able to pull myself together well enough so that when Mabel, my housemate, offered to accompany me early to Pusat Bahasa (literally: School of Language, where I'll be teaching) since she had a morning class but knew that I wasn't totally comfortable getting there on my own yet, I was ready to go.  

It was around then that my day took an up turn.  I was introduced to the rest of the student staff who work at Pusat Bahasa, as well as many of the teachers and administrators.  The welcome lunch was also a farewell lunch, saying goodbye to Mas Sapto and welcoming me and Pak Mouwlaka, and it was nice to see the two of them again, since they had been my first friendly faces in Indonesia.  When we all crowded into one of the classrooms where the catered Indonesian food had been set up, I saw that there were three chairs at the front of the room, panel-style, facing a semi-circle of the rest of the chairs.  Panel-style I could handle, but what was unexpected, after Mas Sapto, Pak Mouwlaka and I had sat down at the front and everyone else had taken their seat in the semi-circle, was when my boss, Bu Vita ("bu," like "pak," being the abbreviated form of respectful address for older adults, in this case women) stood up and said we were going to have speeches, and I was going to go first.  Being put on the spot like that didn't give me much time to get worried, so I just stood up, introduced myself, and said how excited I was to be in Yogya, and how I hoped to get to be friends with all of them during my time here.  After I sat down, I realized that most of them probably hadn't understood most of what I said, but they were all watching me with huge smiles on their faces and clapping, and for a second my brain zoomed way out and I saw it all in perspective: here I was, in this little classroom in this little university building in Yogykarta, Indonesia, Southeast Asia, The World, and people were happy I was there.  People were clapping because I was there.  And for that second, I felt so lucky that I almost witnessed a return appearance of the rogue tears.

Luckily, though, kept it I under control, and then Mas Sapto and Pak Mouwlaka gave their speeches (in Indonesian) and there was a lot of joking and around and laughing and chatting and I wasn't following any of it, but I was feeling okay.  And after lunch Mabel had to go to another class so I walked home alone, and I realized how much better I feel when I'm out walking around, seeing things and getting my bearings.  Something I learned about myself while I was in Madrid was how much it comforts me to understand my geographical location -- to know where I am on a map and how that relates to other parts of the city, to know which general direction I need to walk in if I'm lost and I want to get home.  A thing which is much easier achieved by actually walking around a place, as opposed to sitting on my bed looking at a map.  Duh.  It's true that Yogya isn't really a walking city -- sidewalks are intermittent, as well as intermittently side-swiped by motorbikes -- and it's true that I speak almost none of the language, but it was comforting to realize that, if I absolutely had to, I could walk myself pretty much anywhere in Yogya, including to get myself home.  It might take an hour, but I could do it.  Or I could just take a taxi.  Also that.

Nevertheless, this realization made me feel better, and I was in a much improved mood when I got home as compared to how I felt when I left this morning.  I spent the afternoon chatting with some family and friends online and writing the blog post below (ha) and then around 6:30 I heard Queenie downstairs so I went down to check out the scene.  She'd made some extra food so I ended up sharing some of her dinner and having a great conversation with her about what she'd done before she came to Yogya -- she's originally from Taiwan, but got her B.A. and Master's in the States (in Oklahoma!) and now she lives here in Yogya with her husband who runs a business here, and who knows, she said, where she'll end up.  Maybe back in the U.S., maybe somewhere else.  She also asked me about where I'm from in the States, how Princeton was and why I decided to come to Indonesia with PiA.  It was great just chatting and getting to know her better, and to be reminded why I did choose to come here -- because I wanted to see a different part of the world and meet cool people like Queenie, and challenge myself in the process.  After my chat with Queenie, Emma came home and made some tea and we talked for a little while too; I told her about my plans to explore some more of the city tomorrow, and she told me about some of the cool stuff to be seen, including various murals scattered around Yogya that are apparently, she said, the fruit of a government project between Yogykarta and one of its sister cities, San Francisco?!  (I just Wikipedia-ed it and I guess Yogya has a sister relationship with the whole state of California, as opposed to just SF -- but still.  That's gotta count for something.)  

Anyway, I guess it was my interaction with a lot of very nice people today that raised my spirits, and helped me feel a little less alone in this totally foreign place.  As I was reminded in the Pusat Bahasa lunch this afternoon, as all the student staff joshed around with Mas Sapto during his speech, hooted and hollered and dissolved into laughter -- it was okay, I didn't have to know what they were saying.  I knew exactly what they meant.

04 August 2009


It's my third full day in Yogyakarta, and I'm finally getting my blog set up!  Since really only the members of my immediate family have been getting the play-by-play emails, I'll do a quick recap for the rest of you.  I departed from San Francisco around 1:30AM on the morning of Saturday, August 1st (effectively Friday night) which was well-timed, in my opinion, as I could make all my last-round phone calls on my US phone and then proceed to get on a plane and fall asleep -- good for not thinking too hard about what was about to happen.  My 13.5 hour Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong was uneventful: mostly I napped, ordered movies off the menu of my personal seatback television (got "Duplicity" in right there at the last minute, yes!) and dutifully ate my airplane food.  I had a couple hour layover in Hong Kong, during which I gratefully soaked up the bandwidth of the airport's free wireless -- composing the first of said play-by-play emails to my family, Facebook chatting with Elias, and video chatting with my Dad.  After that I got on my 4.5 hour flight to Jakarta, which commenced the most complicated part of my trip: in Jakarta I had to go through customs, collect my baggage, and transfer to the domestic terminal for my flight to Yogya, which somehow involved being led into the airport parking lot by a dude who seemed like he probably worked at the airport and being ushered in to a van which seemed like it could probably be a legit taxi for the 5km drive to the AirAsia terminal.  Somehow in the shuffle I lost my white Sigg water bottle with the Obama sticker on it -- sad -- but I did get to the right terminal in one piece with all my stuff and only 150,000 rupiah short (about $15), which, if it was rip-off and it probably was because how could it not have been, wasn't too bad for my first rip-off.

After going through another round of security, checking in for my domestic flight, and ANOTHER round of security, I finally made it to my final gate -- the last leg of my journey.  The flight from Jakarta to Yogya was short -- about one hour -- and on the other end I was met at the airport by Mas Sapto (one of the guys who works at the language school I'll be teaching at, and who helped coordinate the processing of my visa) along with the guy who will be taking over his job, Pak Mouwlaka.  By this time I'd been traveling for about 25 hours, not counting the 12 hours between leaving home in Tucson and departing SFO.  It had been almost 48 hours since I had changed my clothes, showered, brushed my teeth, or been able to lie down.  Under these conditions I did my best to make conversation and answer questions, but I have no doubt I seemed a mess.  Mas Sapto and Pak Mouwlaka ("Mas" and "Pak," by the way, are terms of respectful address for a younger man, literally meaning "big brother," and an older man, shortened from "bapak," respectively) took me to "lunch" (though it was almost 5PM) which was extremely nice of them although I wasn't really hungry and all I wanted to do was go to sleep in a bed.  The meal was good, though the most exciting part was that the restaurant was situated around a square fish pond with spigots coming off the fence at various intervals, which, I soon learned, were meant to serve as sinks -- as there were no utensils, we ate with our hands, and proceeded to wash them afterwards under the spigots which emptied into the fish pond.  I guess that way you feed the fish and the people.  Two birds with one stone?

And then, finally finally, I made it my final destination -- the house where the PiA fellows have been living for the past few years, which I now share with three other young women who are language teachers like myself.  Queenie is from Taiwan and teaches Chinese, Mabel is from Colombia and teaches Spanish, and Emma is from the States, originally from western Mass and a friend of a friend (small world, like always) and teaches English.  My first night here I basically dragged my stuff up to my room and crashed, and in the few days since then I've begun getting settled.  I'm mostly unpacked into my cozy, white-tiled upstairs room, my map of the world, rainbow flag, and pictures of my family are up on my wall, and I'm getting the hang of cold bucket showers.  There's more to tell, but I'll save that for a separate post, since this one is getting kind of epic.  It's definitely been a roller coaster -- I won't pretend that I haven't already had my dark moments of panicked culture shock and acute homesickness, and one or two good cries -- but I know this is just the beginning of a long, huge, spectacular adventure, which is exactly what I came here for.  Indo the wild I go!