28 June 2010

CrAsia, je t'aime

Last Wednesday, I taught the last section of my Business 1 course, which also may or may not have been my last class ever in Indonesia.  You would think that at this point, eleven months in to my stint here and with only two weeks left, that my schedule would be solidified enough for me to have a clear idea of when my last class is.  But if you thought such a thing, you would be mistaken -- because, of course, this is Indonesia.  Earlier this spring I spent a few months designing a brand-new writing course with another teacher in my office, which my boss originally wanted to get enrolled and underway by the beginning of May.  The beginning of May came and went, however, with no students enrolled and no immediate signs that this course would come to fruition.  The middle of May came and went, and then the end, and each week I was informed that they were still getting students enrolled but that the course would begin "next week."  When I came back to the office last Monday after a week off for my Sumatran vacation with Isaiah, I was told that, finally, the course would begin next week (i.e. this week).  But when I checked again with my boss on Wednesday, she said that the students in the course had been scheduled to go to Bali for some conference, and therefore the course would start the following week -- which is next week, and also my last week in Indonesia.  Why the fact that the students would be unavailable to begin the course this week was known last Wednesday, but not two days earlier on Monday, is still unclear -- but the moral of the story is that the course will begin next week.  For real this time.  Maybe.

Part of me can't help feeling frustrated at this lack of organization and ever-changing schedule, because not knowing what my commitments at work will be means I can't commit to anything else -- like a one-last-fling beach vacation in West Java with Luna during my last week, for example, which we tentatively planned and then had to cancel because in case this course really does start, I will have to be here.  But part of me (the part with a sense of humor) recognizes that this scattered, amorphous, wildly flexible sense of planning and schedules is truly Indonesia, and while I can't say I'll miss it when I go back to the States, it does seem a fitting way to wrap up my year in a place where time is rubber and expectations are a joke.  Welcome to crAsia, one more time.

And anyway, if this new writing course never materializes and last Wednesday with my Business 1 students was indeed the last class I'll teach in Indonesia, I'm kind of glad I didn't know.  If I had, I probably would have felt some weird pressure to make it "count," but the truth is, it counted anyway.  I had to give each of them an individual oral final exam, but before that I gathered all seven of them into the classroom so I could hand out the cookies I'd gotten for them in Sumatra, and give a sappy farewell speech about how much I had enjoyed teaching them through two sessions, how much their English had improved, and how I wished them the best in their continued studies.  They, in turn, presented me with a gift box, which included a small wooden statue of a wayang puppet, a traditional Javanese cap, two pairs of earrings, and a t-shirt which read "Jogja: live in my heart."  The best part, though, was the note at the bottom of the box, which said: "Fiona, thanks a lot ... For Everything that you've done for us ... Hopefully, you always remember Indonesia which is Yogyakarta.  Good luck in your carrer.  God Bless You --" and was signed by all seven of them, complete with three hearts at the bottom.

Then I gave them their oral exams.  I can't really think of a nicer, normal yet special maybe-last-class than that.  I know I must sound like a broken record by now, but it's the truth -- my students rock.  And as I move onward with my "carrer," if I meet anyone half as cool as all of them along the way, I'll be golden.

25 June 2010

The Motorbike Diaries

As the long-term readers among you might remember, one of the candidates for the title of this blog was "The Motorbike Diaries," as a play on the title of the book (and later film) "The Motorcycle Diaries," which chronicles the travels of a young Che Guevara across South America.  Regaled with stories of the living organism that is motorbike traffic in Southeast Asia, before I came to Indonesia I entertained colorful and elaborate fantasies of myself as the intrepid, motorbike-riding traveler, dodging buses and water buffalo as I set out on the road less traveled around the world's largest archipelago.  As those same readers might also recall, however, upon my arrival in Yogyakarta I discovered two things: 1) motorbikes are expensive, and 2) the traffic here is whacked.  These two discoveries, combined with the third discovery that "themotorbikediaries" was actually not an available URL on blogspot, ultimately contributed to my initial decision not to procure a motorbike in Yogya.  Having neither the funds to purchase or rent, nor the desire to die a gruesome roadkill death, I settled for walking, taking the bus, bumming rides off Luna, and bicycling -- which is how, last October, the lovely Maurice entered my life.

Just for the record, having Maurice has been wonderful -- he has always gotten me to my three main destinations (school, the gym, and Luna's house) without fail, has kept me in shape, and has fostered in me a deep love for bicycles that I expect I will carry with me home to America.  But as this spring has worn on, I have become more and more frustrated with the limitations that the lack of an engine imposes: not being able to travel far afield from home, always having to arrange rides for myself, and showing up sweaty everywhere I go.  As awesome as Maurice is, it's obvious why these circumstances would aggravate me -- after all, who wants to arrive home, having just come from a shower at the gym, newly bathed in sweat?  Less clear, however, is how or why, over the last ten motorbike-less months, I have built up the idea of driving a motorbike in my mind so much that it has become a sort of insurmountable hurdle that I can only look up at, discouraged, from the ground.  Plainly put, I felt defeated.  I felt that I had let myself -- that intrepid traveler of my fantasies -- down, allowing nerves and inconvenience to balloon into a larger-than-life obstacle between me and a set of wheels that I was unable, or unwilling, to conquer.  Driving a motorbike would have been badass, and clearly I was not badass enough.  

You could cue the forlorn music of defeat here, but you would be too hasty in doing so, because luckily for me, my brother is awesome.  As Isaiah and I hung out and caught up from ten months of sibling separation when he was here visiting me over the last two weeks, I described to him how discouraged I felt on the subject of motorbikes and not driving them, and, because he is a good brother, he gave me a big fatty attitude check.  If lots of people can do it, so can you, he reminded me -- you just have to give yourself a chance.  I had been too embarrassed to really express these hang-ups to anyone before, but a little encouragement went a long way -- all the way to Sumatra, in fact, where, on the island of Samosir in the middle of Lake Toba, we rented two motorbikes one day to explore the island with.  It took me a little while to get the hang of balancing the bike and and maneuvering the throttle, but with the hour I was cruising along.  A little shaky, sure, but cruising nonetheless.  And it was glorious: zipping up the coast, the largest lake in Southeast Asia to my right and gorgeous volcanic hills to my left, the wind on my face, driving -- something I had convinced myself I couldn't do.  It made me realize that the only thing standing between regular me and badass me was my brain; and if my brain could tell me that I didn't have what it took, it could just as easily tell me that I did.  And as it turned out, I did.

Which is why last night, back in Yogya, I rented a motorbike.  I had been toying with the idea all week since Isaiah left on Monday, but last night I was presented with an opportunity, and because I now know that I have what it takes, I took it.  I was hanging out with Luna at a coffeeshop when she got an SMS from a friend of hers who is starting a motorbike rental business, advertising a special promotion for rentals.  In a twist of true Indonesian serendipity, the coffeeshop we were at just happened to be around the corner from her friend's house, so she called him up, he drove the motorbike over, I filled out a form, and within half an hour I had a bike.  Simple as that.  

The critic in me wants to scoff at this situation: here I am, with less than three weeks left in Yogya, and only NOW do I finally grow a pair and rent a motorbike?  But the badass in me doesn't listen, because she knows: it's never too late to face the music (or the traffic, as the case may be).  And in a way, it's kind of nice to be embarking on a brand new adventure so soon before I leave -- it keeps things fresh.  Indo the wild I go again!  And this time, I have an engine.

09 June 2010

Departures and Arrivals

Well, it looks like the race to the finish has officially begun.  I can feel the momentum of leaving taking hold of my brain, and even though I keep trying to tell my brain "Stop that!  It's too soon!" it doesn't really help, because that's just my brain attempting to contradict itself, which winds up being mostly schizophrenic and not very effective.  What also doesn't really help is that my friends are starting to leave -- Lolly took off a week and a half ago, and just last night I had to say goodbye to my much-beloved housemates Emma and Cyrus.  It poured all afternoon yesterday and was still raining when the car came to pick them up and take them to the airport, and as I stood at my front gate in the drizzle, crying like a fool and waving as their car drove away, I realized that this whole leaving thing isn't going to be as easy as I thought.  When I think about going back to the U.S., what comes to mind are all the wonderful reunions I'm going to have with family and friends on the other side ... but still being here, now, it is sometimes easy to forget that going back home will also involve leaving this place, where I have formed lifelong friendships and deep attachments to people, routines, and the little quirky quotidia that make life in Yogya absurd, adventurous and wonderful.  Suffice it to say that bidding farewell will be no piece of cake.

On the other hand, I still have a whole month and some change before I have to bid those farewells, and it is jam-packed with goodies!  The most important goody being, obviously, that my brother Isaiah arrives TONIGHT!  I'll be leaving in a few hours to collect him from the airport, which will officially commence the Supreme Awesomeness that is the next twelve days, which we will split between adventuring in Sumatra and traipsing around Yogya eating delicious food, seeing spectacular sights, and trying not to die from heat exhaustion.  It's going to be off the hook.

Isaiah and I will report back at our earliest convenience -- stay tuned!