28 October 2009

The Bicycle Diaries

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Maurice.

Maurice, in case it has not already become clear, is my new bicycle.  I've long been jonesing for some wheels -- it's hard to sustain the sensation of being a legitimate grown-up in the real world when one is walking to and from work every day and bumming rides to go out at night just like one did when one was fifteen, after all.  However, after much thought a serious heart-to-heart with my bank account, I was forced to admit to myself that a motorbike just wasn't in my immediate future.  But no sweat -- that's what bikes are for!

Actually, YES sweat, as it turns out.  A lot of sweat.  But I'm getting ahead of myself -- the story of how Maurice and I met is begging to be told!  Last weekend, after brunch and some grading at a cafĂ© in downtown Yogya, Luna and I made our way slowly northward along a street that is lined with a bunch of bicycle shops, and hit the jackpot on our second try.  As we poked through the line of bicycles and debated the characteristics and qualities I was looking for in an ideal bike, it was actually Luna who first spotted Maurice at the end of the line.  It was, truly, love at first sight. And as all pursuits of true love ought to go, making Maurice my own was actually quite simple -- after some brief negotiation with the man who ran the shop and a waiting period during which Maurice's basket, bell, and lamp were affixed, Maurice was mine.  Done and done.

Now, since I had come downtown on the back of Luna's motorbike, naturally I had a motorbike helmet with me.  This meant, of course, that I would have to ride Maurice back home wearing said helmet.  I will not even try to begin to describe the deep degree of uncoolness that is instantaneously and unanimously ascribed to the person who chooses to ride a BICYCLE while wearing a MOTORCYCLE helmet in this city (more on this later), but I couldn't be bothered with such trivialities as my reputation at that moment -- I had Maurice.  

After waiting to make sure Maurice was actually a functional vehicle (there was only one small glitch -- Maurice's back tire suddenly going flat -- which was remedied in no time but which might have warned me of the events to come) Luna left me to my first magical ride and headed back uptown.  My first ten minutes with Maurice were glorious: I was flying along, the wind whipping across the surface of my helmet-bubbled head, and although the busses were roaring past me spewing vehicle exhaust into my tender lungs and the motorbikes swerving and honking maniacally to avoid us, we didn't notice.  We were happy.  It wasn't until I was gliding under the railroad tracks that I suddenly felt Maurice jerk and become wobbly -- after coasting to a halt at the bottom of the hill to take stock of the situation, I found to my horror and despair that somehow, inexplicably, Maurice's back tire had gone flat AGAIN. Under normal circumstances this would not have been an entirely huge deal since there are dudes with motorbike and bicycle repair stalls about every 200 meters on main roads, but first of all, I felt it wasn't right for Maurice to have been handed over to me in less than prime condition, and second of all, I had literally no cash left on me. Maurice had cost me a sum of money exactly equal to the sum of money I had in my wallet, and while at the time of purchase I had taken this as a sign that Maurice and I were destined for each other, at the present moment it left me with few other options but to turn us around and peddle slowly (and wobblyily) back to the shop so that the dude there could re-tube Maurice's back tire for a second time, for free.

Since no self-respecting seller of bicycles in Yogyakarta could quickly forget a strange western girl who bought a bike and rode it away with five pounds of heavy-duty plastic on her head (and also since only approximately 20 minutes had elapsed since I had purchased said bicycle), the guy remembered me right away and quickly -- and very apologetically -- changed Maurice's back tire again.  And then we were off.  Again.  This time there were no hang-ups, and I actually made it back home half an hour later having made exactly zero wrong turns and having been almost hit by a motorbike only once.  Pretty good for a first ride in Yogya, I'd say.  Here's where the "YES sweat" comes back in, though, as by the time I arrived home it appeared more likely that I had just swum the distance from downtown Yogya, or perhaps ridden Maurice through the Great Salt Lake.  Not the most attractive homecoming, to be sure, but that's pretty much what happens when you lift a finger in the tropics -- your sweat glands throw a party.  Try riding a bike a couple miles, and that party becomes a full-blown rager.  Just gotta go with the flow.  (I mean, even if you don't want to go with the flow, the flow's so strong it will pretty much just buoy you along anyway.)

I actually couldn't take Maurice to school on Monday or Tuesday because I didn't yet have a bike lock, but on Tuesday afternoon I finally acquired a fatty steel wire lock and took Maurice both out to dinner on Tuesday night, and to and from school today.  I have already been made fun of both for my fatty lock (which does actually weigh kind of a lot ...) and for wearing a helmet (thankfully no longer a motorbike helmet) by several Indonesians, including the parking attendants at my school, but hey -- I'm not taking any chances with Maurice or with my brain.  I care too much about both of these things to risk their being stolen or smeared across the sidewalk.  Sometimes you just have to make the choice to look like a complete idiot (a feeling I have grown accustomed to since moving to Asia) -- and besides, it makes for great blogs.  

So anyway, that's Maurice -- I'm sure you'll be hearing much more from us in the months to come.  In the meantime, we can all sit back and be thankful that "themotorbikediaries" was not an available URL on blogspot, since that blog title would by now have become not only irrelevant, but also inaccurate.  I think I'll take that as a sign, too.

24 October 2009

Happy ... Something? ... Year

"Happy Birthday" in Indonesian is "Selamat Ulang Tahun," which translates literally as "Happy Repeat Year," and which I think is cutely inaccurate because birthdays don't mark the repetition of years -- they mark the progression of them.  And this is actually one of the greatest things about birthdays -- they give you a chance to reflect on the year that's gone by, and look forward to the year that's ahead of you ... kind of like your own personal New Year that comes with gifts and much reminiscing about when you were just a little tyke running around in diapers and sticking brass letter openers into electrical outlets, as it were (you can ask my parents about THAT story).  In any case, this past Monday I turned 23, thereby officially ushering in my mid-twenties (or is this still my early twenties? the line is so fine ...) with a celebratory day that will surely mark the beginning one of the most transformative years of my life.

Wonderfully, my father was visiting me last week -- a huge pre- and post-birthday treat.  After his arrival in Jakarta he flew on to Denpasar, Bali, where I met up with him at the airport.  From there we took a shuttle up to the small artisan town of Ubud, where we proceeded to spend the next four days wandering around and taking in all the artwork and handicrafts that lined the streets in shops and stalls, dodging macaques in the famed Sacred Monkey Forest, eating incredible Balinese roast duck and black rice pudding (see below and be jealous), and generally splashing around in the sweet sweet wading pool of tourism that is Ubud.  My dad got most of his Christmas shopping done, and I got to eat all the Western food I was craving that isn't normally available to me in Jogja, so I'd say all in all, we both came out ahead by the end of the weekend.

It was back to Jogja on Sunday (Monday is a working day, dontchaknow), but I was stressing so much about all the work I had neglected while I was playing in Bali that I kept forgetting Monday was my birthday.  My dad didn't let me forget, however, as the first words out of his mouth when my alarm went off on Monday morning were crafted into one of his own special editorialized Dad incarnations of the Happy Birthday song.  I had Indonesian class from 8 to 10, and then taught one of my General English sections from 10 to 12:30, the highlight of which was when a couple of my students (who I also have in another class and who knew it was my birthday) began a round of the Indonesian version of Happy Birthday (in English) and the rest of the class joined in.  And then everyone wanted to shake my hand, which is apparently how you express good birthday wishes in Indonesia.  It was really one of the sweetest moments of my short teaching career (in both the sentimental and awesome senses) and I won't pretend that behind my wild giggling, I might have teared up just a little.  But just a little.

After General English I went back into the office to get my materials ready for my two afternoon classes, which I didn't have to teach for another few hours.  I'd figured it was a shame that I'd have to be in the office all day on my birthday, but my dad had plans to go explore downtown Jogja and I knew I could use the break to catch up on some work.  Back in the office, however, I was immediately accosted by my housemate Queeny, whose response to seeing me was, "Fiona, what are you doing here?!  It's your birthday and your dad is visiting!  Get the heck outta here!"  I tried to explain that I had classes to teach and my dad could occupy himself, but Queeny would have none of it -- she all but physically escorted me out of the office and told me she would take care of everything. Deciding that at least I could take my dad to lunch, I caught him at his hotel and took him to my favorite lotek place (see "Culinary Jackpot of the Week") so he could have the "real warung experience" and some great eats while he was at it.  I got back to the office an hour later to discover that Queeny had taken the liberty of canceling not only both of my afternoon classes that day, but also both of my classes on Tuesday, and I was off scott free until Wednesday.  Queeny, needless to say, is pretty much a rockstar.

With my afternoon suddenly void of commitments, I went back to my dad's hotel and proceeded to spend the afternoon lounging in the air conditioning (when the coolest you can ever get is sitting in front of the fan, you don't take AC for granted no more) and soaking up all the wonderful birthday messages that had begun rolling in to my email inbox.  That evening, my dad took me and Brittany, whose birthday was the day before mine (COSMIC), out to dinner at this funny restaurant called Gajah Wong, which basically has all these different rooms with different music themes (think country room, smooth jazz room, etc.).  (NB: Brittany has started going by her middle name, Luna, which is how I will henceforth refer to her.)  We opted for the gamelan room (gamelan is a traditional Javenese drum) and spent a lovely hour and half being serenaded by a live gamelan drummer, drinking mango juice and Bintang, and sharing stories of my dad's and my travels in Ubud and Luna's recent trip to Singapore. 

(Aww, look at us.  Aren't we cute.)

After dinner we stopped by a wayang (shaddow puppet) performance which was being translated into English (wayang shows are always in Javanese, which goes TOTALLY over my head as it bears almost no relation to Indonesian) but Dad was fading fast in the heat, so we left early to go back to the hotel.  After mango mousse and an Oreo milkshake at a little Italian restaurant near the hotel (one of my favorite "Western fix" locales) I opened the birthday cards my dad had schlepped from the States, snuggled down under the covers in my hotel bed in our air conditioned hotel room, and called it a (birth)day.

It's a funny thing to celebrate your birthday so far away from family and friends -- it makes you realize that the main thing that makes birthdays special is being surrounded by people who know and love you.  Luckily I had my dad and Luna, but in the absence of the rest of the gang, I did get to thinking about my last birthday -- which I celebrated during my last fall midterms week at Princeton by strong-arming as many of my friends as I could manage into ditching the library for a few hours and joining me for dinner at Mexican Village -- and the year that lies between now and my next birthday, for which I could be pretty much anywhere.  By the time I turn 24, I will have taught English as a second language to university students in Asia for a full academic year, and will (hopefully) speak pretty decent Indonesian.  By the time I turn 24, I will have spent more time away from my family than I ever have before in my life, and I will have survived it.  I will have eaten more tempe bakar and nasi goreng than I probably will ever want to eat again in my life.  I will have a most likely indelible farmer's tan, and I will also, quite definitively, be in my mid-twenties.

The rest, pretty much, is up in the air.  I might still be here in Jogja, or somewhere else in Indonesia, or somewhere else in Asia, or somewhere else in the world.  I might be back home in the U.S. of A.  To acknowledge that I have no idea what I will be doing or where I will be living when I have my next birthday is kind of exciting -- it means this coming year is going to bring me places I cannot even imagine.  I'm pretty sure that means it's not going to be a repeat year, which is fine by me.  So, "Selamat Ulang Tahun?"  Thanks anyway, Bahasa Indonesia -- I think I'll just take "Selamat Tahun" and leave the rest.  Happy year -- that's good enough for me.

11 October 2009

Yes, I Still Exist

Well, it seems about time to face the music and quantify the bad news -- it looks like we're clocking in at over THREE WHOLE WEEKS since my last post.  Disgraceful.  In my defense, I would like to note that I departed Denpasar, Bali, at 6:50AM on Monday, September 28th, arrived in Jogja at 7:05AM (three cheers for the time difference), was in a taxi by 7:20AM and back at my house by 7:35AM, had a quick mandi, packed my backpack, and was out the door by 8:10AM, arriving at school at 8:30AM only half an hour late for my Indonesian language class, and proceeded to take, teach, and/or lesson plan for class for the next eleven hours, arriving back home at 8PM that evening.  Needless to say, it's been a long two weeks of playing catch up.

The game of catch up was barely over, in fact, before it was preemptively begun again this week, as I stayed late at work on Friday to teach a make-up class for a class I'll miss at the end of next week when I dip out for Bali AGAIN (doing it right this time though) with my visiting father!  Acknowledging the fact that it would be truly unforgivable if I took another vacation before blogging about my first one, I figure it's time to buckle down.  

For those who have their maps ready and waiting, our general itinerary read as follows: we flew in to Denpasar, Bali (arriving only one and half hours late -- rock on, Mandala Air), and spent the first night in Legian.  We spent the next day and night in and around Kuta, and then the next morning boarded a bus bound for the port town of Padangbai, on Bali's eastern coast.  From there we took a ferry over to Lombok, docked in Lembar, then bussed up to the coastal town of Senggigi, where we proceeded to gorge on the delicious food and descend into emo-dom, contemplating the nature of our existence and the fate of Planet Earth over the course of the next few days (more on this later).  Once Senggigi started cramping our style (also more on this later), we hopped a shuttle and then a motorboat to the Gili Islands off the northwestern coast of Lombok, stopping first on Gili Trawangan for three nights, and then hunkering down on Gili Meno for two nights.  From Gili Meno, it was only one motorboat, one shuttle bus, one ferry, and one more shuttle bus back to Kuta, Bali, and the next morning I was up and at the Denpasar airport earlier than I care to recall, only one small island and a few short hours away from just another manic Monday.

For the sake of curbing the potentially epic proportions of this post, I've decided to scrap the conventions of narrative and do it highlight style, so that I might actually finish by the time my flight leaves for Bali next week.  Because that would be nice.


TJ'S.  A Mexican restaurant in Kuta with amazing seafood enchiladas and coconut margaritas.  Do I have to say more?  And before you start looking at me like that because I'm out rocking my tourist hat and eating Mexican food, keep in mind that it's been roughly two months since I've had tortillas, beans, or any cheese product that doesn't taste like grated Kraft singles.  (Oh wait, that's because the cheese in Jogja IS grated Kraft singles. Right.)

ULU WATU.  A Hindu temple on the southwestern tip of Bali (as in, basically built into the side of the cliffs), complete with sweeping ocean views and rascally monkeys that steal people's sunglasses off their heads and then try to eat them.  Literally.  Here we also got to see a traditional dance called kecak, in which 40-odd men in sarongs sat in concentric circles in the middle of an open-air, semicircular theater and chanted for an hour while dancers depicted scenes from the Ramayana story and we watched the sun set over the Indian Ocean in the background.  Word.

GETTING TO SENGGIGI.  Suffice it to say this ordeal lasted roughly ten hours, and included not one but TWO shuttle buses as well as a 5-hour ferry ride.  One interesting aspect of this journey was meeting a couple Germans who are actually currently living in Jogja, who we would continue to see along our route for the rest of the week, and who would later pretend not to know Brittany when she ran into them in a restaurant here a few days ago. Another interesting aspect of this journey was the 5 hours on the ferry from Padangbai to Lembar, a few of which we spent playing hearts with the Germans on a vom-encrusted table, and a few of which Brittany spent by the railing on the lower deck having a heart-to-heart (stomach-to-heart?) with the Bali Sea.  I am fortunate to be relatively immune to motion sickness, but even I was having a hard time with the violent rocking of what was basically a small ship carrying hundreds of people, dozens of motorbikes, and approximately three large tourist buses.  (Note: the people on the tourists buses, we later learned, had sit INSIDE the bus, inside the lowest deck of the boat, the entire time. Ouchity-ouch and/or YUCK is all I have to say about that.)

BEING CONFUSED AND WET IN SENGGIGI.  Unfortunately for us, our time spent in Senggigi, which apparently is usually a lively and sunny beach town, coincided with both the end-of-Ramadan Idul Fitri holiday as well as the onset of rainy season.  Therefore, the town was not only TOTALLY deserted (except for a handful of other bewildered tourists wandering around) but it was also raining.  (And in the tropics, when it rains, it actually does pour.)  These effects combined to produce an eery, post-apocalyptic vibe for this phase of our vacation, during which we collectively bashed our Lonely Planet guide (which had falsely suggested that options for accommodation and eating came at approximately one-third of the price that they actually did,) discussed the probability that we might be the last humans on earth, and drank lots of Bintang.  One of the days we rented motorbikes and tried to drive inland to visit Pura Suranadi, another sweet Hindu temple in the jungle, but we didn't get 15 minutes out of Senggigi before the clouds let loose and we commenced to look liked we'd just jumped in a lake -- which I guess we basically had, given the amount of water falling from the sky.  We figured that since we were already soaking wet we may as well press on, but by the time we made it to the temple, my linen pants were completely see-through and Brittany's circulatory system was flirting heavily with hypothermia. The temple was truly gorgeous, constructed of black stone set against a background of deep jungle greens and purples, and though we tried really hard to enjoy it, the fourteen thousand cubic meters of water that were being dumped over our heads per second made it a little difficult.  (It should also go without saying that since bringing our cameras out at this point would have been sure and sudden death-by-jungle-downpour for them, there exists no proof of our expedition to Pura Suranadi.)  Scrapping our plans to visit another temple and some small villages in the area due to risk of drowning, we headed back to Senggigi -- and of course, in our hypothermic haze, accidentally took the long way.  Back at our hotel, after putting on the warmest clothes we could find (no hot water, dontchaknow), we took ourselves out to celebrate with not one but TWO dinners, dessert at a restaurant with a kick-ass live band that played four James Taylor songs for me upon request, as well as tickets on the next boat to the Gilis.  Maybe one day we'll be back to Senggigi.  Maybe Noah's ark will be over by then.

GILI T.  Three days of cloudless skies, spectacular white sand beaches, banana juice, pineapple juice, mango juice (oh my!), all the seafood we could eat, and technicolor sunsets over Bali's Gunung Agung, with some snorkeling and Italian-style gelato thrown in for kicks.  I think they call that karma.  Thanks, cosmos.  It was about time.

GILI M.  Gili Meno was actually the only pre-determined part of our trip, as Brittany had made reservations at the Sunset Gecko, an eco-friendly hostel of beachside bungalows (Lonely Planet's pick!), for the last two nights.  We figured it would be nice to wrap up the Lombok vacation on the quietest of the three Gilis, which it certainly was -- we also figured there would be water at the Sunset Gecko (since accommodation normally comes with at least the option to shower), but there certainly wasn't.  Apparently the water delivery boat didn't come in?  We figured the eco-friendly place would have just had salt-water showers (after all, that's the kind of shower we were taking at our regular hostel on Gili T), but no cigar.  Hence Brittany's and my decision, working on day five since our last freshwater shower and day two since our last shower period, to take the Sunset Gecko's communal bar of all-natural soap into the ocean.  This had the general effect of commencing the process of dreading our hair, and most likely only made us stickier than we already were.  Operation: GET CLEAN, sadly, failed -- but no biggie, since we only had ten hours of trekking back to Bali the next day.  Gili Meno was gorgeous, to be sure, but needless to say we left the Sunset Gecko looking pretty lizard-like.  That freshwater shower back in Kuta was probably the best cold hostel shower I've ever had in my life.

And since I've already related my epic journey back to Jogja, I think we can call that a wrap.  In the meanwhile, it's just been a whirlwind of teaching, grading, studying Indonesian, and trying not to get BangJo every time I walk by.  Next up: Fiona and her pops do Bali.  Oh don't worry, you'll hear allllllll about it.