Paragraphing didn’t copy and paste. Apologies!
5.4 Tonight my host father left shortly after I came home (read: after Di and I walked home in the monsoon uphill for an hour!); he told me he was going to Batu to meet some friends. Ibu and I stayed home and ate supper together and were joined by her two best friends. We starting singing some karaoke in the living room and danced a bit. It wasn’t too long before they told me where my Bapak was… at Batu Night Spectacular singing karaoke with his friends!!! Sneaky! He didn’t even tell me. He knows I love to hear him singing karaoke, but I think it would have been a bad scene if I tried to invite myself to Batu. Here in Indonesia, karaoke is very much a male bonding activity. However, we had plenty of lady bonding rockin’ out to early 90’s Indonesian power ballads and pop songs, complete with very stylish music videos (including a live performance featuring an extremely jolly toy keytar player with royal blue cutoffs and a perma-grin). Amazing evening, overall… Bapak still isn’t home yet. I wonder what he’s singing right now.
5.5 This morning I sat in the front of the house with my host dad and chatted with him about our events of the previous evening. I hadn’t slept well and told him so; he asked if I heard him come in at 11pm the previous night, which I didn’t. My Ibu was sweeping and piped up that he came home, actually, at 2am. I said, knowingly, wow, you must have had a lot of business to do with your business friends in Batu! He replied affirmatively. I told him how Ibu and I had sung karaoke together and wasn’t it too bad he missed it? At that point he knew that I knew he had not been attending to business in Batu. Ibu yelled, “Yeah! He was singing karaoke in Batu!” and we all had a great laugh. Adorable.
***** Sam dyes hair in the Peace Corps… So… I’ve decided to keep dyeing my hair (black). I bought the dye the other day at the “Zam Zam Mart” in the next village over. It cost 5200 Rp per package and I bought two, approximately $1.40. There weren’t gloves nor was there a bottle with a nozzle. I wasn’t surprised but I still wasn’t exactly sure how to manage without these items; I couldn’t use a bowl of my host mother’s and I didn’t want to buy a new one. I decided to use a plastic Danone drinking cup, the top of which I had to cut off using my pocketknife, in the style of Maggie on the Rez with the Basha’s pencil holders. I mixed the dye with a Q-tip and applied it with gloves from the PC Medical Kit. I already asked my PC Medical Officer (PCMO) if I get free gloves throughout service…absolutely I do.
5.6 Today my host father said “What’s that water on your book?” I said it was just rainwater. He said “No, it’s probably drool! You must have fallen asleep when you were reading! You’re such a bookworm!” All in bahasa, of course. Hilarious. Then he asked me who was more handsome, Pak Jack’s driver Mas Yonas or himself. To his delight, I said “Bapak!” Much laughter and happiness.
5.9: “The Midnight Train to Jogja” The nineteen of us, our two training directors, Susi, and our four language teachers all took a tour bus to Jogjakarta last weekend. About ten hours away from Malang, it’s one of the largest cities in Indonesia and the largest producer of batik in Jawa (if not the entire country). It’s home to the Borobudur and Prambanan temples as well as the Kraton of Jogjakarta. Our trip was lovely; Susi organized everything so that we didn’t have to organize our own transportation hardly at all, our hotel rooms were already booked when we arrived, and almost all of our meals were arranged. Though I felt initially that I wanted to try and fend for myself and organize the trip by myself (and many of my friends felt this way, too), it turned out to be great to just relax and not worry about anything. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves for most of this trip; there’s so much to describe, especially when it comes to the temples…which are, truthfully, indescribable. We had a great time taking becak to Malioboro, the main drag for batik and souvenir shops. This was my first time hiring a ride in one of these giant tricycles with front-facing seats. Honestly, it was quite terrifying, only because we drove on the main streets as cars and motorcycles zoomed past. The drivers could only go so fast and the becak itself is fairly large; we had more than a few close calls over the course of the weekend. (I just wrote a lengthy section describing road culture in Indonesia but decided to delete it so I don’t cause you any unnecessary worry; suffice it to say that if you would like to worry about anything regarding my living here, it’s the driving/riding/walking in the city. Ha!). Another exciting part of the trip was all the bartering I got to do. I had a rather successful weekend bargaining for my own purchases and also helping my friends out with theirs. It’s basically the same way each time; you look at something, the seller offers you a price which you immediately proclaim (rather theatrically) is far too expensive; the seller asks you to offer a price; you make an insultingly low offer that’s promptly declined; you bicker back and forth about how high or low quality the item is; you make a final offer which is always declined; you walk to the next toko and start browsing elsewhere; the seller waits a couple of minutes and then accepts your offer and calls you back to his or her toko. I bought a batik purse that was originally offered at 40,000 Rp but that I bargained down to 15,000 Rp That’s the equivalent of just over $4.00 down to just over $1.50. I also helped Travis and Gio get a couple of sweet daggers down from 50,000 Rp each to 35.000 Rp for two. Fun, funny, exciting. The sellers love it when they realize I can both speak bahasa Indonesia and that I know about bargaining and how to do it. I feel bad for bargaining over such small prices, but it’s horribly common for sellers to mark their prices up hundreds of percent when they see a foreigner shopping (of course nothing has price tags so there’s no way of knowing at what price they’d sell the item to a local). But frankly, I’m on a $1.75 per diem, so I can’t afford to pay for things as if I’m making the same salary I made in the States. Important lessons learned in Jogja: my current local is, indeed, the coolest place in Indonesia—Jogja is an oven; pecel is delicious and spicy and one of my new favorites; singing karaoke on a bus is one of the best activities to pass the time; police can easily stop busses for no reason (or a reason like “your bus is too big for this road”) but busses can easily continue on their way for a small bribe (such as 50,000 Rp); buying oleh-oleh, gifts for the family back home, is somewhat stressful and rather expensive but worth it; hotels that know foreigners are their primary clientele increase food prices accordingly, to my dismay; I can get really, really hot and really, really sweaty in an incredibly short period of time.
***** 5.9 The Economy Train to Malang
We went to Surabaya day before yesterday to see the Peace Corps Indonesia program headquarters, recently renovated from an old art collector’s house. Surabaya is the second largest city in Indonesia and its name comes from an ancient fable involving a dueling shark (sura) and crocodile (buaya). It’s way up on the Northern coast of Java, near the bridge to Madura. We took a public bus to get there and it only took two hours and one breakdown to make it to the Surabaya station. We too taxis from there to PCHQ, which is located very near the US consulate in Surabaya (I’m not yet sure if there is another consulate besides that or the main one in Jakarta… maybe not). Luckily, we were free after a short tour and brief get-to-know-you activity (for the staff we hadn’t yet met). I went with some friends from another cluster to the Surabaya Town Square for lunch and treats. I’m fairly sure that “Town Square” is a generic name for gigantic shopping malls that are found in the larger cities. The Surabaya TS was filled with interesting places to eat interesting foods; we chose a place that served tiny, tiny portions at insanely high prices, lucky for us. We ate anyways and then had some frozen yogurt. After lunch, the girls and I went to the bookstore in search of novels in English and newspapers. Against the desires of those who care for us, we took an angkot down the street after walking too far in the wrong direction to turn around and walk to the bookstore. It wasn’t a big deal and we didn’t get (too) ripped off. We knew where the bookstore was, so felt confident that the angkot could go straight there and drop us off promptly. At the bookstore we found lots of books and some delicious drinks; I had an avocado-coffee-chocolate smoothie with vanilla ice cream and it was fantastically strange and delicious. We all hooked up later to go to supper; to our delight, Truong had made it the group mission to find and eat some sushi. After deciding on a place and deciding there were too many of us to take taxis, we flagged down an angkot and climbed in. Mind, it was already dark and a little rainy outside… we were surprised and confused when the angkot helper (the kid who sits in the door and collects money for the driver) immediately asked us for money (normally, in our area and during the afternoon ride, the angkot driver is paid after the destination is reached). We said we would pay him when we arrived and he told us that they needed to get gas for the angkot. We also realized at this point that he wasn’t exactly sure where we were going… luckily a nice Ibu who was also riding said she lived near the place we wanted to go, so she gave him directions. He persisted to harass us about paying up front; we insisted on waiting. Eventually, after he started staring at me too intently and speaking too vehemently, we decided to pay him the angkot fee. We had trouble, of course, when some of us wanted to pay for others (specifically, my cluster takes turns paying for rides because it’s rare that we all have change small enough to pay individually, and Bart wanted to pay for the four of us, which confused the poor boy and probably angered him) and some didn’t want to pay at all. We rolled up and parked behind another angkot and the nice Ibu got the hell out of there because she could tell something wasn’t right. We could tell, too. The angkot boy told us we’d have to get into the angkot in front of us and that that driver knew where to go and would take us there for free. Of course, we didn’t believe this; angkots are, from what we can tell, independently owned and operated. At least, they don’t share money in any way. We knew we’d have to pay again. We didn’t want to get swindled (on principle: it’s $0.30 per ride), so Diana and Bart tried to get the angkot boy to tell the other driver that we had already paid. He wouldn’t; things were getting a little heated and rather uncomfortable. The original driver was yelling and (I found out today) lightly hit Diana on the shoulder while trying to get us to get inside the other angkot and Bart was arguing with the angkot boy. We decided to just walk away because we knew it wasn’t worth it… Travis yelled “Nice trap!” in bahasa Indonesia as we were leaving. Overall, a stressful yet amusing scenario. We ended up at a strange shopping mall somewhere in the middle of Surabaya and decided to take taxis from there back to the Town Square, where we knew there was food to eat (and beer to drink). After searching the TS we found a sushi place that ended up being quite good. I hadn’t ever had non-vegetarian sushi before. I had a spicy tuna roll and something else that was equally delicious. We went downstairs and found a pub, drank beer, listened to a sweet DJ and a less sweet cover band… but were immediately escorted to a neat light-up table in the corner. You’d be amazed at the (unwanted) special treatment we get here. Next day… Economy train to Malang. We thought it would leave at 10 so we arrived at the station at 9. We bought our 4500 Rp ($0.45) tickets and decided to go to Dunkin’ Doughnuts to pass the time and have a snack while waiting for the train to leave, which we learned actually left at 11. I ordered a durian-cream filled doughnut just because I couldn’t not order it; it was disgusting. Everybody tried it and hated it. I really love durian, but… eck. We waited on the tracks until about 11:30 before boarding the train, which was old and rather rickety. We were lucky enough to get seats!! I sat by one of the 4” windows, which didn’t keep me any cooler than anyone else, I’m sure. We were sweating and thirsty before the train left the station. There were vendors with ice drinks, snacks, and stuff… sellers would come by and throw a stack of something (books, candies, stickers) in your lap and come back a few minutes later and recollect it. Annoying! I didn’t buy anything! In Surabaya, the train tracks run alongside the slums. I don’t have the energy to describe them. We passed numerous waterways and ponds that were filthy and reeking from rotting garbage. When we got out of town the view was beautiful, though; so many rice paddies! Still, every so often we’d pass some more foul water…you can imagine a train without fans or AC in 95 degree weather traveling the same direction as a drainage stream. Not good. Plus, the train would stop every fifteen minutes or so when it arrived at the next station, but it would be stopped for fifteen minutes as people got on and off as inefficiently as possible. It was so hot when the train wasn’t moving… even the nationals were dripping with sweat. You can imagine the Americans! It was pretty amusing, even to us. We were situated in two groups and when we checked in with one another to make sure nobody was sick we had to talk pretty loudly… the Indonesians hushed right up. We were sore thumbs for sure. The ride ended up taking twice as long as we thought it would be; we arrived in Malang about 4 ½ hours after we left Surabaya. We were all soaked through with sweat and hungry but we were home, finally. Stepping out of the train into the fresh air was the best. I’m not sure if I’ll ever take the train again, but I’m glad I did at least once. You have to know how people get around and frankly it fits my budget (a private car from S’baya to Malang would probably cost $30) so I’m glad to know how to do it and what to expect. After getting off the train I still had almost an hour’s worth of traveling to do. We had to take an angkot to the north side of Malang and then take an angkot back to the village… taking those two angkots cost 8000 Rp ($0.80). Compare that to the train ride… 1/8 the distance and almost twice the cost but significantly more comfortable. Big open windows. Important lessons learned in S’baya: the PC headquarters is excellent and I’ve got 24 hr. access to the Volunteer lounge and Internet-connected computers, so I can go there whenever I want or need; brownies and Oreos are very delicious; Noel and Lyn are suckers (Travis and I are winners).
*** I just took a throat lozenge from the PC medical kit; my entire mouth is numb and my throat is still sore.
**** 5.10 I’ve got a sore throat and my host mother just went to buy something for it… I’m not sure what she’ll buy, but I bet it will cure me better than anything in the med kit. My host family is convinced that I’ve gotten sick from too much travel and not enough rest, which I believe. Bapak also said that if it’s hot (like it was in S’baya) and you drink anything with ice in it (like I did with lunch on Friday), you’ll get sick. I don’t quite know why, but it’s so, he says. Tomorrow I’m not allowed to eat anything spicy or drink any coffee, a sad state of affairs indeed. Now I’ve got to take a mandi. Host dad just finished; today he took his cigarette into the bathroom with him. He normally takes his cell phone, too, and answers it when someone calls. Ibu makes the best faces… “Isn’t he ridiculous?” So true.
*** 5/9 Makin coffee with Scotty’s host family
We went to somewhere far from our village and made coffee! Really made it. Roasted the beans and everything. Scotty’s family has coffee trees and they harvested and processed the beans before we arrived; we took the unroasted beans and went to a roaster’s house and used his traditional stove to blacken them. We then went to another house to grind them. They smelled so good! The whole process took a couple of hours and we ended up with eight or so kilos of grounds (fine kopi Jawa grounds). I tried it last night and it was superb. By the time I got home it was still warm from the roasting…!
*** 5.10 The tailor finished sewing our batiks! They’re amazing. A perfect fit. So beautiful. Overall, about 75000 Rp, or $7.50… for a hand-sewn custom-made batik shirt.
***5/16: Happy Birthday BRADY.
All healthy. At campus for Hub day. I think I’m finding out my final site later. Wow!
Kate and Sal are getting lots of hugs from across the ocean.