16 May 2010

A Week in the Life of a Grammar Monkey: Sunday (Part 7 of 7)

Well folks, it's Sunday night -- so that's pretty much a wrap.  I don't know about you guys, but I'd say this little week-long experiment in finding joy (or at least amusement) in the quotidian mundane went rather well.  It gave me reason to pay attention to the little quirks of daily life in Indonesia that I don't notice anymore, and it gave you a brief window into the sometimes-humdrum, sometimes-hilarious existence that I've built for myself here over the last nine months.  Plus, now everyone knows I'm currently keeping a liquid-filled slug on my leg.

Which brings me to the bad news -- this evening, sadly, I popped my slug.  I was sitting down to dinner with my friend Lolly at our favorite Indian restaurant, and I guess I wasn't paying proper attention to the whereabouts of my right calf, because the next thing I knew I had a clear, slightly sticky liquid coursing down the back of my leg, and my slug was lying wrinkled and deflated against my skin.  I know this is probably too much information for those of you not medically inclined (or maybe even for those of you who are), but I realized I'd grown kind of attached to what I had begun referring to as "my slug," and it's a shame it lives no more.  It is also a shame that my tailpipe burn blister has become an open wound subject to infection, since now I have to work extra hard to keep it clean.  Hey dad, any suggestions?

On the other hand, I also have some good news -- something happened to me this evening that reminded me why living in Indonesia is actually pretty amazing.  Before dinner, Lolly at I stopped by the thrift store across the street from the restaurant, and I locked Maurice with my big fatty bike lock because I am in the habit of doing that (no one likes a stolen bike!).  The lock is basically a huge chain sheathed in some kind of super-hard plastic casing, and at one end there's a bolt that plugs into a hole on the other end and clicks locked with a key.  The key has been getting stuck in the lock recently, but I figured it was because rainwater had got inside and rusted it a little bit, and anyway all it usually takes is a little wiggling to unlock.  So I didn't think anything of it when I went to unlock it after the thrift store and the key got a little jammed, but the usual wiggling didn't seem to be working, and then -- oh dread -- the key BROKE OFF inside the lock.  And then I flipped out.  

Of the approximately four to five hundred thoughts that immediately rushed through my head, the relevant ones included the following: 1) there is now no way to unlock my bike, and therefore no way to ride it home; 2) even if I could go home, get the spare key and come back here, there would still be no way to unlock my bike, and therefore no way to ride it home; 3) I cannot walk home carrying my bike, so I will have to leave it here and will probably never see it again; 4) the only way to be able to ride my bike home will be to get someone to cut the lock off, which is something I will be unlikely to accomplish on a Sunday night, even if I could get the bike to such a person with such equipment; 5) I will not be eating Indian food with Lolly tonight.  This was largely the nature of my flip-out, although I think I voiced a few bad words, which is something I don't usually do.  I just couldn't believe I had spoiled my evening out with Lolly, put Maurice in a terrible position and eliminated my one form of independent transportation, all in one ill-fated flick of the wrist.

Taking immediate action, Lolly and I walked down the street a few meters to see if we could find one of the motorbike repair guys who set up shop on the side of the road and ask if they might have any ideas, but we came across a hardware store first, which I figured was a good place to start.  We walked back up to the thrift store, and I was getting ready to pick Maurice up by his frame and walk him down to the hardware store to see if they would have anything strong enough to cut the lock, when an old man who had also been shopping at the thrift store and had seen the commotion (I think he probably heard me say the bad words) came out to inquire after the problem.  I showed him the broken stub of my key and did my best to explain what had happened, although it was pretty obvious the predicament I was in.  He first motioned across the street and said it would be possible to get the lock cut over there, but when I kept asking "Wait, where exactly?  Over where?" he took pity on my incompetent self and matters into his own hands.  He asked for the key, which I handed over, and then he tried to fit the stub into the opening of the lock, even though the entire length of the key was still inside.  Yeah, like that'll work, I thought -- and it first it didn't, but when I took the key back from him and tried it one more time just to see, totally miraculously, it did.  Somehow the key stub was able to turn the rest of the key enough to disengage the lock, and the chain popped open.  Maurice was free!  And now Lolly and I could go get Indian food!

I thanked the man profusely and then we parted ways, but the whole incident just made me realize how lucky I am to live in a place where there are people like this man, and this is how things operate -- where strangers help strangers in need.  Sometimes the lack of systemization in Indonesia and the informality of processes that are standardized in the U.S. infuriates and confounds me -- for example, in this country, if something gets stolen, people are just as likely to call the dukun (a traditional magical healer, like a shaman) as they are to call the police -- but sometimes, grassroots problem-solving works better.  And it feels better too.

So from where I'm sitting on this Sunday evening, I'd say: another great week in Indonesia accomplished.  It wasn't the most exciting or the most exotic, but sometimes all it takes to make a great story is just to tell the ones that are happening around you.  And I mean, come on -- impromptu interviews, homemade kite-flying, personalized field trips, bicycle near-catastrophes, and liquid-filled blister slugs?  Just TRY to tell me you weren't wildly entertained.  Just go ahead and try.

15 May 2010

A Week in the Life of a Grammar Monkey: Saturday (Part 6 of 7)

Solo was sweet.  It's actually a lot like Yogya from what I could tell, but having my own personalized tour guide in the form of my awesome friend N just put the icing on the cake.  Sweet, like I said.

Trains run between Yogya and Solo all day, so I just took myself to the train station at 8:30 this morning and was in Solo by 10, where N met me at the station.  Our first stop was the Puri Mangkunegaran, one of Solo's two palaces, where, touring the compound and the incorporated museum exhibits, I got to see all manner of ancient Javanese artifacts, including sword-cum-headdresses, miniature currency, and gold-plated genital covers that the king and queen supposedly wore when they were separated, just to be sure there'd be no monkey business on the side.  People must have been a lot smaller back then -- and that's all I'm going to say about that.

Next stop, the Kraton Kasunanan (the main palace) where we got to wander through a lovely grove of huge leafy trees in an open courtyard and see more old Javanese artifacts, like the royal carriages from the 1800s with wheels whose diameter was taller than me.  (Can you imagine if I got wheels like that on Maurice?)  The palaces were nice, but I think the fun part really started after the kraton, when we went to N's aunt and uncle's restaurant for lunch.  I got to try the traditional Solonese salad, which consisted of a mix of vegetables, egg and beef floating in a dark broth, and chat with N's aunt and uncle, who seemed just tickled pink that an American who didn't look like an American but nevertheless was a real American was sitting in their restaurant.  (For the record, this has been a theme throughout my travels in Indonesia -- the most common sentence people to say to me, after "Where are you from," would have to be a tie between "But you don't look American!" and "But you look Indonesian!".  Occasionally it can be annoying to be told I don't "look" like my nationality, but mostly it's fun to bust up people's preconceptions about the face of America.  And if they're serving me delicious food, then hey -- I'm not complaining.)

After lunch N and I headed to a well-known batik museum and workshop, which was absolutely amazing -- I had never seen so much beautiful batik in one place before, and getting to tour the workshop in the back (and pose with the artisans for the requisite photos) was a huge treat.  Apparently all the fine linework is done by the women, and the men handle all the stamping -- when I asked our museum guide why, he said because the stamps are too heavy for the women, so the men have to do that part.  The feminist in me growled reflexively at learning this, but then I thought about whether I'd really want to be yielding ten-pound iron stamps dipped in boiling wax -- and then I decided it was probably fine to leave that task to whoever wanted it. Also it was pretty amusing to look out across a big warehouse room and see forty shirtless men stamping intricate patterns in wax onto large pieces of cloth.  I'll get some pictures up soon, so be sure to check back.

Last on the list was picking up some srabi, a traditional Solonese snack that's like a thin crepe with a mound of sticky rice in the middle topped with chocolate and bananas (GAH so delicious) and then N put me on the train back to Yogya with a promise to come again soon.  The verdict: Operation Field Trip a resounding success!  I made it back home in time to go out to dinner with Luna (because how could my day be complete without a meal with my partner in too-much-free-time-crime?), and I didn't even pop my slug.  Score.

14 May 2010

A Week in the Life of a Grammar Monkey: Friday (Part 5 of 7)

It was a usual Friday -- lunch with Luna, gym, falling asleep reading Jared Diamond on the porch.  An afternoon thunderstorm foiled my plans to go bargain hunting at the thrift stores with my friend Lolly and then out to Indian food, which was too bad since it takes a lot for Lolly and I, who both ride bicycles, to gear ourselves up to take the bikes out on a big field trip (i.e. anywhere further than 15 minutes from where we live).  Mother Nature strikes again.

In the end, I sat around for the first part of the evening researching plane tickets back to the States (yipes), and then went out for pizza and jus alpukat with Luna at our favorite local pizza joint.  After pizza we headed over to Cafe Oh La La for some New Zealand Natural (see "Culinary Jackpot of the Week," right) which tasted even better than I remembered.  O ice cream, how I long for thee!  It was still raining when we finished with our cookies 'n cream, so we broke out the Bananagrams.  After playing several regular hands, we started building on one of the puzzles and worked until we had created one huge crossword, using all 144 tiles.  At some point we realized that we were doing exactly what all our students must suspect their young American English teachers do on Friday night -- hang out together, gorging themselves on Western desserts and playing word games.  So classic.  Luna maneuvered the last tiles into place, completing our massive crossword with the word "cloud."  Then we high-fived.

Tomorrow, I'm going to Solo (Yogya's sister city, about an hour east of here) to meet one of my favorite students, we'll just call her N, who is in my most advanced group and is also a good friend.  She's from Solo, goes back every weekend, and has generously offered to show me around.  Field trippppppp!  This should be good.

Slug update: mostly unchanged, though a little more wrinkly.  I wonder if that means it's starting to drain on its own?  If I can make it through without popping this thing, it'll be a miracle.  I'll keep you posted.

13 May 2010

A Week in the Life of a Grammar Monkey: Thursday (Part 4 of 7)

Today was a national holiday, so there was no school!  Oh wait -- this session I don't teach on Thursdays anyway.  Hmm, right.

However, it being a national holiday meant that other people also had the day off, which was how Luna and I got to go make kites with our friend Ajik and then fly them in the rice paddies.  Following Ajik's instructions, we crossed two thin sticks and wound them together with string, and then cut a piece of tissue paper to fit the kite and attached that to the frame.  Just add one empty water bottle spool of pink string, and voila!  A homemade kite.  

Having kite wars in the rice paddies was a lot of fun, but unfortunately I got so caught up in looking, well, up, that I accidentally leaned against the still-hot tailpipe of Luna's motorbike and got myself a nice juicy burn in the shape of a crescent, smack in the middle of my right calf.  (My rash is pretty much gone by now [thanks Benadryl] so of course I had to inflict some other sort of injury on my body to make up for it.)  Over the course of the afternoon, the burn turned into a bit of a doozy -- by which I mean, the crescent-shaped patch of seared skin has since become a three-dimensional, crescent-shaped blister rising a good half-centimeter off the surface of my leg, which makes it look like I have a kind of fatty, dark brown slug chilling on my calf.  Gross, right?

To take my mind off the pus-filled bubble slowly forming on my leg, Luna and I went out for juice at this cafe around the corner from my house, where we spent a lovely hour drinking mango (her) and passionfruit (me) juice and playing gin rummy.  I won (sorry Lunes).  Then we went back home and ate bread and cheese sandwiches and read on the couch for a while, where I knocked off another 20 pages of Jared Diamond.  Juice, cards, and the history of everybody for the last 13,000 years -- such a productive afternoon!

After dinner we went to see Iron Man 2, which I enjoyed quite a bit, mostly for the scene in which Scarlett Johansson goes all Charlie's Angels and whips a bunch of security guard butt.  Then I came home and took pictures of my burn.

Aren't you enjoying this?  I know I am.

12 May 2010

A Week in the Life of a Grammar Monkey: Wednesday (Part 3 of 7)

I'm not sure this whole "a week in the life" thing is working out.  I mean -- I went to the gym this morning, then the office, had a meeting, taught a class, came home, cooked spaghetti with Luna and watched American Idol and Glee on TV.  Doesn't that sound kind of like everyone's life?

On the other hand, it rained again this afternoon and evening which cooled things down, and when I went outside to let Luna out we remarked on how cold it was.  On her way home (in her flannel-lined jacket), she checked the temperature on the billboard thermometer above the grocery store, which apparently read 27 degrees celsius.  We just did the math: that's 80 degrees fahrenheit.  80 degrees and shivering?  This is not everyone's life (nor everyone's wildly re-calibrated biological temperature gauge).  It's going to be a long, long winter this year.  Better sweat it up while I can -- luckily for me, that won't be hard.

11 May 2010

A Week in the Life of a Grammar Monkey: Tuesday (Part 2 of 7)

Another standard morning: woke up to the song of the neighborhood wonderbread seller peddling his wonderbread cart down the street (sari roti, roti sari rotiiiiiii), made some coffee, read the Times online.  Didn't teach today so spent the morning doing a little grading and unnecessarily straightening up my already straightened up room.  Met Luna for lunch at the lunch buffet around the corner, where I got rice, three different kinds of veggies, a piece of fried tempe, a hardboiled egg, and a banana juice, all for under a dollar.  Love Asia.

Something a little out of the ordinary actually did happen after lunch, as it turned out.  I had agreed to chat with this girl who lives in the kost (boardinghouse) across the street from me, for some project she had for her English class -- I figured we would just sit on my porch for ten minutes, she would ask me some questions, maybe I'd have to sign something for her, and we'd be on our separate ways.  It never ceases to amaze me how, after over nine months in Indonesia, I still entertain the fantasy that things happen the way my brain assumes they would logically happen in my normal world, since obviously I am not living in my normal world.  At least I no longer feel surprised when events rapidly diverge from the track of my expectations -- just as I did not feel surprised when this girl, we'll call her Matilda, showed up at my gate, not alone, nor even with 1 or 2 of her classmates, but with 5.  They all crowded on to my porch and explained that they represented three separate groups of 2, and would I mind doing an interview with each group?  No, of course I would not mind doing three interviews.  Would I mind if they videotaped the interviews on a cell phone?  It would be my pleasure.  Lights, camera, action?

The three interviews were all pretty much the same, but only lasted about 6 or 7 minutes each.  In each interview, I was asked where I am from, and when I said the United States of America, I was asked, each time, which country specifically in the United States of America.  (Well, the great country of Arizona, if you're keeping track.)  I was also asked twice what kind of food I like to hunt for in Yogya -- they must have heard about my escapades at Cowmad last night.  Overall, it was quite a pleasant half hour; the girls were very sweet, and now 30 minutes of video featuring me sitting on my porch and smiling like a lunatic are stored on some Indonesian college student's cell phone.  If I'd known the thing would be videotaped, I might have washed my hair this morning and/or put on real clothes, as opposed to the Bali pants and cutoff t-shirt I was planning on wearing to the gym afterwards.  No matter -- they told me I looked beautiful.  Ha.

Next stop gym, then my twice-a-week traditional Indonesian dance class.  We've been learning dances from Sunda, which mostly involve sticking out one's butt a lot, and splaying one's fingers in what are, to me, totally unnatural positions.  I usually go home feeling pleased, but also with my shower from the gym totally negated, and with sore fingers.  Tonight was no exception, but when I got home my housemate Mabel's friend Antonio was over making paella, so I got to jump on the dinner train and hang out with a bunch of his Indonesian friends and eat delicious homemade Spanish food.  I didn't even like paella that much in Spain, but this was bomb.  Plus, one of his friends brought mini Dunkin Donuts for dessert!  And you guys know how I feel about doughnuts.

So, Tuesday's a wrap.  Actually, I'd say it was pretty excellent -- given that I had absolutely no plans when I woke up this morning, except for dance class.  Rash is fading from my torso, but is still showing up mildly on my face and seems to have spread to my hands, arms, and legs.  Just popped two Benadryl so I figure I'll be crashing momentarily.  No Jared Diamond tonight.  And whoops, there goes the Benadryl -- off I go to dream sweet sweet dreams.  Preferably about doughnuts.

10 May 2010

A Week in the Life of a Grammar Monkey: Monday (Part 1 of 7)

I've been bored recently, and since there's no excuse for boredom in this short short life, we're going to do a little experiment.  The experiment will be called "A Week in the Life of a Grammar Monkey," and will involve me posting a blog every day for a week, to give you guys a peek into the quotidia of my somewhat absurd existence.  With two months left on the clock, I can feel my psyche starting the wrap-down process of disengaging, but it's too early for that.  Two months is a long time.  Just think how many opportunities to misspeak, occasions on which to look foolish, places to get lost in, and gallons of sweat to sweat are contained in two months.  No, O Psyche Of Mine, it's too early for that!  So here's me pushing the big fat STOP button, and setting aside a week to take note of all the little things that make my (at times ridiculous) life worth writing -- and reading -- about.

Today I woke up, made coffee, read the New York Times online, and checked out the weird rash I've been sporting on my face and torso the last few days.  I've been feeling kind of sick to my stomach and headachey, but the strangest symptom is definitely the rash, which makes me look splotchy and flushed like I've been crying a lot -- I mean, like my entire face, chest and stomach have all been crying a lot.  Luna has diagnosed as an allergic reaction.  You can't really see it unless I'm under direct light, so I figure my students won't care.

Off to the gym.  Arrive sweaty and bedraggled as always.  Low-key work-out since I'm not feeling well, which is mostly just for show anyway since the real reason I came here was to shower with water pressure.  In my opinion, hot water is whatever when it's 95 degrees outside, but water pressure is truly a thing of luxury.  I take my time in the shower, then shmance myself up in my purple batik work shirt, give the blow-dryer a few passes through my hopeless yes-I'm-growing-my-hair-out shaggy 'do, and bike over to the office.  I have to print out the final project assignment sheet for my class at 1, which is a task that, three computers and two printers later, I manage to accomplish.  Good thing I gave myself an hour and a half lead time.  At noon, the power goes out.  Yay.

And whaddya know, it's the last meeting of my General English class.  Four of my seven kids show up, probably because it's pouring rain and no one likes to go out when it's raining.  We barrel through the activities I've organized to help them prepare for their final paper and presentation due next week, and finish the class with my favorite end-of-semester Write Fiona A Letter activity, in which I have my students write me a letter reflecting on what they did well this semester as a student, what they could have done better, what I did well this semester as a teacher, and what I could have done better.  To be honest, these letters weren't as good as the ones I got last semester -- but I'm probably just cranky because I didn't get any professions of undying love this time around.  Best excerpt: "Miss Fiona has teach me very well.  I'm very happy to learn English with Miss Fiona.  Miss Fiona is a good teacher.  I never bored if I came to her class.  I think you should continue what you love to do.  Your student will be fun in your class, because I feel it and I'm enjoy the class."  As fun as the class may be, it's hot and dark in the classroom so I let my students go early after they turn in their letters.  I spend the next 2 hours half-heartedly planning my class at 4 and waiting for the power to come back on -- which it does, at 3:30.  For ten whole minutes, and then goes off again.  We talk about multi-part verbs in my 4 o'clock class (to be into something means to be interested in that thing) but I let these kids go early too, because I'm really not that into teaching in the dark.  Also it's still hot.

Bike home, where I ditch the work clothes and sit in front of the fan taking my evening pass through the New York Times until dinner.  Luna comes over and we walk around the corner to try this new rumah makan called Cowmad, specializing in -- what else? -- beef.  We joke about getting mad cow disease and order ribs and a Mongolian beef hot plate.  "Ribs" actually turns out to be one enormous cow rib, roughly the length of a loaf of bread.  Everything is delicious, including Luna's ice tea which comes in a glass the size of a small bucket, complete with a baby lemongrass tree sticking out of it.  Compared with the usual tiny Indonesian portions, this is incredible.  We're going to have to come back to Cowmad.  

Next stop, Cafe Cokelat for our new weekly translation date.  We order hot chocolate, break out our Indonesian-English dictionaries, and painstakingly read 4 pages of Eclipse (the third installment in the Twilight series, which every teenage girl in Indonesia is obsessed with) in Indonesian, looking up pretty much every other word.  We figure this is a great way to build relevant vocabulary, since you never know when you're going to want to use the word "vampire" in casual conversation.  We decide to institute a new "words of the day" policy, where we assign ourselves a few newly-learned words to somehow work into conversation the next day.  Tomorrow's words of the day are: "belaka" (entirely, completely) and "keadaan" (situation).  The bonus word of the day is "membela" (to sacrifice in death).  That last one might be tough, but that's why it's the bonus word.

Home by 10.  This was actually a pretty full day for the grammar monkey -- with my new painfully light teaching schedule (I only teach one more class this week, on Wednesday), we'll see what I find to write about.  In the meanwhile, my mind keeps going back to what my student wrote in that letter today: I think you should continue what you love to do.  Sometimes I feel like I know what that is, and sometimes I'm not so sure.  That should provide some good material for the before-bed rumination.  

Off to keep plugging through Jared Diamond.  Less than 100 pages to go.  With a subtitle that reads, "A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years," this book's got its work cut out for it.  Do I feel smarter?  Maybe.  We'll see.