Macau travels and other tidbits!

It has been far too long since my most recent post, and a lot has happened since then. I am gonna write it all and not proofread, cuz that’s what I have time for!

First off, I got a new laptop! The battery on my old laptop crapped out, and I couldn’t find a cheap replacement. Didn’t want to spend $200 on getting a new one shipped here from Japan, so I spent $500 instead and got a new one altogether. Considering my old one was purchased in 2008, I’ve made a huge step up and remained quite thrifty about all of it; the old one definitely had a great run. The new one is about 1/3 of the weight, red instead of black, and its running Windows 8 (which I haven’t really mastered yet, but hey it sure is slick). Managed to find a laptop brand with a global guarantee and repair centers in the US. Felt a little nervous about getting one here, but my smart undergrad friend from the IT department helped me out. It took us both about two weeks to make a decision; I was nervous about spending that much money, and he was nervous about advising me and me eventually being dissatisfied. After many hours in the tech mall downtown (and two or three separate trips), I made my choice, and I’ve been very pleased with what I ended up with. I still need to sell my old laptop if possible. The one and only drawback is that if I bring this one to the US, I need to use an adaptor, but whatever, seriously. I’ve had to use one here with my old laptop for most of the past five years and it hasn’t been a major issue. Big whup! New sexy fast laptop that doesn’t burn my hands or weight a billion pounds! Rejoice!

I’m going to tell you a few things about what’s been going on lately, but I’m not going to do it in any particular order. I’ve reached that uncomfortable place where it’s just been too long to think too hard about what to write and in what order since I just need to post something!! I know I’ve got some special people out there reading (you), and I like to keep them happy. Honestly, I’ve been doing a lot more Instagramming than blogging, and if you don’t follow me already and you’re interested, I’m @tisamlette. You can also see my pictures at www.instagram.com/tisamlette if you don’t have a smartphone or an Instagram account. Thank you for paying attention to me and for loving me.

The most exciting thing of late has been my trip to Macau! Like a royally stinky turd, I didn’t blog about it immediately, even though I desperately wanted to. Sometimes, my own laziness (and my self-absorption) gets the best of me. Instead of blogging, I came back to Indonesia and just continued on with my life. I’ve reached the point where blogging isn’t necessary for me as it was in the beginning (I had a similar experience during Peace Corps service), and unfortunately it gets pushed to the backburner. I can process my life and experiences and emotions without having to write about them, which means I blog less. But I’m going to try and stop doing that…especially since I’m trying to, ahem, explore options re: continuing this journey. More on that in a few weeks.

So, I attended a folklore conference on the supernatural in Macau in late March. It was through an organization called Island Dynamics. They hold and organize the conference and facilitate tours of conference locations that are tailored to the topics in the conference. For example, last year’s Island Dynamics was in Shetland and was about religion (if I remember correctly), so the presenters all got to do a few days’ touring around and seeing important historical sites, churches, cultural stuff, etc. I think this is much better than just arriving in an exotic locale for a few days for a conference, or even arriving for a few days to the conference and spending an extra day or two trying to see things on one’s own. First of all, the tour is tailored to the topic of the conference. Second, you get to develop stronger relationships with fellow conference participants. I met so many amazing people in Macau, some of whom I hope to keep in touch with on both personal and professional levels. It was great!

Macau is a “special administrative region” or SAR of China, which is basically the same relationship between Puerto Rico and the US, just for a frame of reference. I can’t say much about the precise nature of either of these two situations, but from my basic understanding, they are similar enough to warrant the comparison. I thought that China had three SARs—Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan—but it turns out the status of Taiwan is complicated and incomprehensible to my feeble brain, and it’s not actually an SAR. Macau, a quick ferry ride from Hong Kong, was under the colonial rule of the Portuguese until 1999, when control was transferred to China. 1999!! Naturally, with so many hundreds of years of Portuguese influence, there’s an incredible hybrid culture there. It’s a blend of Cantonese and Portuguese, Buddhist/Chinese and Christian/Catholic, European and Asian, East and West, etc etc!! And it’s really amazing. I’ve never been anywhere like it, and I never really knew there was somewhere like that in this world! Even something so simple as seeing bilingual street signs in Chinese characters and Portuguese was captivating. It makes sense, but it seems so random, and proves again how much I don’t know about Asia (or how much I didn’t learn in public school in the US about the outside world).

Our tour primarily consisted of visiting cultural sites, museums, temples and churches, and eating delicious foods. We also visited several large casino complexes, as Macau is the gambling mecca of the world. It generates about seven times the profits of Las Vegas on an annual basis. Incredible! Who knew? Not me!! I mean, that’s not entirely true since I had watched Anthony Bourdain’s No Limits episode on Macau after registering for the conference (which I found on Conference Alerts), but still. Anyways, if you watch the video, you’ll get a great idea of what Macau is like. I really wanted to do the bungee jump, but it was just too expensive.

So, regarding Macau, I posted a lot of pics to Instagram and gave detailed captions about everything I saw as I was experiencing it. Please check out the pics and forgive me for making you work for it rather than simply reposting them here. Actually it takes a while to repost them, and I’ve still got so much more to say. I am totally inspired to go to China after visiting Macau. I think I’d even go back to Macau someday, if not to see it again but to visit the supremely lovely lady I couchsurfed with. So much generosity, so much pleasant chatting, so many good drinks and nice dance moves, and so many amazing, stupefying, spine-tingling, love-inspiring, lustworthy hot showers (and drool-inducing water pressure!!!!!!).

The conference took two of the six days I spent in Macau, and it was a great experience. It was my first time presenting about my current research project and my first time presenting at a conference not at BGSU (where I did my master’s). I was incredibly nervous and not fully prepared; I should have cut out some of the information and slimmed things down. I feel so passionate about my project and I tried to say too much, I think. However, I learned some great lessons about public speaking. Plus, I decided not to prepare a script or use notes (as I normally do) in favor of attempting to speak both eloquently and naturally about a topic I obviously know a ton about because it’s what I’ve been working on for the past two years, and I think that was a success. Despite talking too fast near the end because I crammed too much in, I feel comfortable with what I did considering it was so new to me. Decided right off the bat not to be too hard on myself, because that’s not productive. Just gotta take what I can from the experience. That’s the entire purpose of the trip; I struggle with public speaking, and I set a goal during grad school to try and do at least one public speaking event per semester. Met my goal and learned a lot. I think I can get better. I know I can! There’s no point in not!

So, the highlights of Macau for me were: the delicious spicy Portuguese-Cantonese duck rice I had with a Portuguese beer alongside; seeing the crazy lights at night crossing the bridge between Macau and Taipa where I was couchsufing; enjoying living with a few cats again for a short period of time; warm cognac with lemon-ginger-honey blended in; seeing the big Portuguese churches and admiring the architecture; smelling the incense constantly burning at the countless temples; taking in the flashing street signs all in Chinese characters and loving not understanding a word of it; the immaculate and so easy public transit system; the live cover band I danced to with my couchsurfing hosts when nobody else in the place was even out of their chairs; Portuguese egg tarts everywhere all the time, and good Chinese food (which I had to learn how to eat properly; never knew about the tiny bowl system! You pull the food into a tiny bowl about the size of a teacup and eat from there, not the plate, with your chopsicks. Discarded items—bones, etc—are placed directly on the tablecloth. This system made it very hard for me to monitor my portions, but I didn’t care because all of the Chinese food I had was so. damn. good. and all I cared about was stuffing more into my face); meeting some incredible people at the conference, including an Iranian woman and her husband, both of whom completely stole my heart and took me in like their little pet, and a Malay-American-British lady about my age currently working on her PhD who inspired me completely with her eloquence and confidence; and the fact that I missed Indonesia so very much. There was a charming Indonesian graduate student there who’s completing his master’s in Thailand, and it was lovely having a connection with him, speaking Indonesian, and discussing living and studying abroad…and he made me miss my friends and family here. I loved my trip and definitely felt sad to leave, but I was pleased to be home again, back in my zone at the end of it.

The week before I left for Macau, something exciting happened in Malang, and I got right back into the excitement when I came home. The newest batch of Peace Corps trainees (soon to be Volunteers) arrived from the States!! I creeped in on their campus arrival before leaving town for Macau and got to meet a few of them. Peace Corps uses UMM for its training hub, and many of my friends from IRO work for Peace Corps when the trainees come through every spring. One of the new girls had found me on Instagram through Travis, I believe (as with everyone connected to Peace Corps who finds me or knows who I am when they met me), and brought me and Maria some Butterfingers, which was a real highlight of their arrival. I tried to portion it out so I could share it with my friends but scarfed it down after the first bite. Anyways.

When they arrived, I had a huge rush of emotions and adrenaline, just seeing their faces and remembering my first experiences here. It was so nice to see them finally arrive and feel their energy. The Peace Corps is re-using my training village as a cluster site, as well, and they’ve placed a trainee, Natalie, with my host family, which is just great! I was in Macau when she arrived, but we have connected a couple times for family outings, and it’s been lovely. She’s so young and gentle. I really like her and I think she’s going to be a wonderful, caring Volunteer. She’s doing well with her bahasa too! It’s so interesting to see her and Sinta interacting in ways Sinta and I never did when I was a trainee, since Sinta was about 16 at that time. Now, like I’ve told you, Sinta is all grown up. She’s interacting a lot with Natalie—even speaking English and helping Natalie with her bahasa—and it warms my old heart. Love those girls so much!!

Since there’s a new batch of trainees, the cycle of the senior Volunteers is about to end. There are always two or three groups in country at any given time, since the stint is for two years and the trainees arrive a few months before the seniors leave. So, the people who arrived two years ago are about to finish up their service. I didn’t know any of them personally, but I knew their friends who were in country when they arrived as trainees, since those were the groups directly following my group and the groups I knew. Basically, I was in the first group (since the 60s), and the group that just arrived is the 6th. So, I knew the 2nd and 3rd groups, and the 4th group, which is just about to finish, also knew the 2nd and 3rd groups, but not mine directly. It’s weird. It really is a big family, and there are connections everywhere. Many, many people know Travis, since he networks so well and is now recruiting in Chicago. He also makes a great effort to see people when they connect to PC Indonesia on FB and before they leave to start their training. That guy!!

So, Peace Corps invited me to speak on a panel earlier this week as part of the 4th group’s close of service conference. I got to speak as an RPCV with two other senior RPCVs, both of whom served in Africa and both of whom are completely magical, well-spoken, and inspiring. One now works for Peace Corps Indonesia in Surabaya and the other has been working with USAID and the US Foreign Service for over a dozen years. We got to share about cultural readjustment, job opportunities and grad school fellowship opportunities, how to represent Indonesia and complete Peace Corps “third goal” activities (teaching US citizens about Indonesia), what to expect when leaving site and separating from really close friends and family here, what to expect upon return to the US, and a few other things. The PCVs were so sweet and nice. I had had the chance to meet them a couple of nights earlier as a party-crasher at their prom (an annual event thrown by the junior group in honor of the group that’s leaving; it was started when the 2nd group threw my group a prom in 2012 right before we finished our service) in downtown Malang. They’re a lovely and sweet group of people, and I wish I had gotten the chance to know them better…and bust even more dance moves together. I’m sure they’ll be great no matter what they do in the future. Being able to participate in their COS conference was such an honor; I liked speaking about my experience, sharing tips and tricks, and, of course, getting some tasty free lunch at the beautiful mountainside resort where the COS conferences (including mine) are held. Hooray!

Did I mention that Peace Corps came and sort of kicked me out of my house? Well, that’s not entirely true, but they do have priority over the housing I was using last semester, and now that it’s training time for PC, my old house is the local PC office. Ha! I moved in early February to a new place. It’s a boarding house in front of campus, and it’s just perfect. There are a couple of ladies from my office living in other rooms in the house (of which there are seven). I have a balcony all to myself, which is the crowning glory of the whole thing! I downgraded to cold mandi (bucket bath) status instead of hot shower status, but honestly the balcony makes it worth it. Plus, it’s more secluded, and I can really get some downtime. No real shared or really frequented common spaces, and so I feel I have more privacy. The room is pink. The walls are pink, the curtains are pink, and my blanket just so happens to be pink. But honestly I’m starting to like pink. I got a pedicure two days ago and chose pink. The pink haven is influencing me!!! Anyways, I love having a balcony (did you get that?), and the place isn’t very much. My old place was free, and this one is costing me about $35 per month, so it’s really not that bad at all. My motorcycle is more than that. Totally happy with the move, feeling content, feeling happy about it, enjoying the pink haven and my balcony. Also, I’m pretty sure it’s an even closer walk to campus than before. At least, it’s not on as busy of a road. Househunting success, thanks to my friends Nana, Bie, and Nita!

I’m going to do another post soon about some volunteer guest speaking I’ve been doing around Malang as well as a project update, but this is all for now (lest I post nothing).

Let’s all think of SK and her family as they prepare to welcome a new baby man into the fold!

Sending love from Java,
Sam

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