Category Archives: storytime


Where would I be without Magical Vriz? Crazytown. My house is almost ready, and I can’t wait to post pics.

Let’s talk about body adaptation processes in the tropics. First, your bowel movements stop and/or speed up exponentially. Then, you’re just extra sweaty all the time forever. Clogged pores. My period this month (started yesterday) is just whacko–probably from moving back to the tropics, might be the nearly full moon, too. Good stuff? Basically immediately healthier skin and nails. Bye-bye, hangnails! Hair would be healthier if it weren’t for the chemically shampoos. Teeth are immediately dirtier because of disrupted flossing routine. (Okay, that’s probably just my own damn fault).

Can I just say, Miss V helped me get my salt lamp situated. I carried this beautiful 10-pound Himalayan salt lamp all the way from the US (checked for security purposes at Detroit and in Jakarta, pulled all the way out my damn bag), and after five minutes of being plugged in last week, the little lightbulb shorted out. Great! V bought me a replacement today, and I’m on cloud nine. She thinks I’m quite loony. Well, I am. But I need my therapeutic techniques for dealing with life on top of all the physical stresses of moving back to tropics-land!

Stare at the salt lamp. Work on my coloring. Keep blogging. Hang out with friends, in person and virtually. Get back into the workout routine. It’s hard transitioning back– feelings of guilt over leaving people behind, anxieties about finishing my research project and getting into the swing of work, jumping right into a whole mess of new things effectively immediately after getting off the plane… I’m so lucky to have such a strong support network here and to have been stubborn enough to bring my ‘silly little things’… essential oils, knitting supplies (most of which I probably won’t use), my banjo, my salt lamp, my special Mason jar, my dang French press (which made it, by the way– didn’t break!). The essentials, you know?

I’m glad I’m not as stubborn about “going without” as I used to be. Life can be very comfortable here.

 The Spiritual Practice of Menstruation: There is so much more to the menstrual cycle than the biology lesson given to explain it, in the same way that there is so much more to sex and childbirth than the mechanics. The menstrual cycle is a cycle to base your life around, in fact your life is based around your menstrual cycle whether you realise it or not, whether you pay attention to it or not. There is magic inherent in the menstrual cycle. Each cycle provides a woman with the opportunity to understand and read the messages her body gives her for any specific healing she needs. Each cycle creates the opportunity for as much spiritual growth and personal development that she could want. Before electricity, women ovulated when the moon was full, and bled when the moon was dark. The pineal gland in our brain sends messages to our ovary, by hormones, to release an egg based on the amount of light our brain senses in the night when we are asleep. At the point of most light in the night, the full moon, we are programmed to ovulate. Ovulating at the full moon means we bleed at the dark of the moon, the time when the energy is more inwardly focused anyway. The average menstrual cycle is the same as the lunation cycle 28 days. Not only are we meant to be synchronised with the moon phases, we are also meant to be synchronised with each other. If you know where you are in your cycle you can much more easily ‘go with the flow’ so to speak. You could even manage your life around it. Start new projects in the first and second week of your cycle. Express your creative urges. Have parties when you’re ovulating, finish off things in your third week. Stay home, and be on retreat when you’re bleeding. In this way you’ll actually be looking forward to your blood coming, and be ready ‘to let go’. The mysteries of the women’s blood by #women #power #sacred #feminine #yin #spiritual #wombman #shaman #mystic #menstruation #magic #embrace #blood #mystery #moon #cycle #weareone

A photo posted by Mystic Rebelle (@mysticrebelle) on Sep 11, 2015 at 1:01pm PDT


Prompty!: Sister Memories

Well! A hitch in the plan for daily posts! I spent the night at my friends’ place last night, and they have no internet. Freebie for me! 😉

So, I’m part of a ladies’ journaling group (in the US), and we’ve been trying to get moving regularly on the prompts of Sophie Isobel Asher, an artist and writer based in Mildura, Victoria (Australia). I haven’t done a single one yet. Isn’t that just the best? I’m such a good participator! I suppose I have to forgive myself since the journaling group took off basically as soon as all the wedding and moving-across-the-world-to-Asia-on-my-own madness began, but jeesh, it wouldn’t kill me to write 500 words on something specific at some point during a two week period. Anyways, here’s my first attempt, and I’ll be using the following prompt (one of this week’s set of daily prompts from Sophie):

I Remember: This is an opportunity to capture moments of childhood joy. A favourite celebration, holiday or sweet memory. Notice where your mind wanders to, what fills you with happiness.

I chose this prompt specifically because it’s about childhood, and my childhood has been on my mind ever since my little sister’s wedding last weekend. I got to relive it all again last night when I was at my friends’ place; Mbak N., a relatively-newlywed herself, asked me all sorts of questions about what weddings are like in America. Most of what I told her about she had seen/heard in movies, but it was nice to share with her about the little details and shock her with the fact that I had done the officiating myself!

The wedding day stirred up so many feelings for me about my younger sister. It was so magical to see her to happy and to watch her feel the love we all have for her; sometimes, I think, she doesn’t feel it, even though it’s always there… she seems to have a hard time, as we all do now and then, with the self-care and self-love stuff, and witnessing her experience and internalize the immense love and joy of her wedding day—the love and joy that came from within her and that which she received from everyone around her—was nothing short of magical. I have said repeatedly since the wedding day that it was the best day of my life, and that’s no lie. I have such strong love for baby sis, and seeing her showered with love was just tops. If I were ever to have a wedding, it’d have to be pretty phenomenal to top the emotional payoff I received from witnessing and participating in my sister’s.

I had a hard time thinking about what I’d say during my toast at the reception and wanted to freestyle it so that what came out of my mouth would be genuine. But I think what ended up happening was that I had too many emotions and thoughts in my head, and I didn’t necessarily feel satisfied with what I was able to say. I felt pressure from convention to remember specific childhood memories—funny stories, little anecdotes of interaction, specific moments and events in my sister’s life—but all I could think of in the days prior to the weddings were just impressions: details of how she looked or acted, memories of feelings I had about her when we were younger, little home-movies of unimportant incidents that replayed themselves in my head when I tried to remember something toast-worthy.

My sister had scraggly blonde hair as a kid and the most messed up teeth ever. She was as skinny as a twig and really quite a naughty young thing in her early years. At one point she had rose-pink, round plastic glasses with rose-tinted frames… they went really well with her bowl cut. We used to fight over who’d get to play certain levels of Mario World because the prizes were really great. I never wanted her to hang around me; the 5 year difference was quite enormous for us. I have distinct memories of our mother breastfeeding her when she was an infant—she always used a long pillow with a boxy black and white pattern. My sister always slept in my room on Christmas Eve, and it always irritated me (usually she’d wake me up with excitement even though I could have definitely kept sleeping). She had perfect babydoll skin and still does. Her teachers used to be mean to her. She and I used to trade Halloween candy, and I was usually able to trick her to get her best stuff. We only had one year together at the same school, when I was in 5th grade and she was in Kindergarten…I don’t remember what we did together that year, if anything, although I think we had daycare together (probably I avoided her). She used to do the “sway back” thing in her 2’s and 3’s and give my mom a hell of a time. She had Little Mermaid roller skates while I had mom’s old red-and-white ones. She also had a my-size Barbie of which I was secretly very jealous (mostly because I was too old/big to put on the my-size princess outfit). She was very lazy about doing her homework, but she was involved in Brownies and was very cute in her little uniform. Actually, she was a really cute child. We used to get in trouble for jumping on the big trampoline together instead of one at a time.

I could keep going, but what’s bugging me now is that most of my memories are of me not being a very good sister. Admittedly, my sister was a little maladjusted hellion. Sorry, sis, but you know it’s true! I don’t remember really feeling like we were friends until I went away to college… I’m sure it was a combination of me being older (and selfish) and her being younger (and naughty) that caused us to have so much friction. Whatever the case, she’s my best friend now. I suppose that’s all that matters, although I’m sure that my own assholiness towards her as a child contributed to her lack of self-esteem as a young person. But maybe I can tell myself that my love for her now is helping her work through those issues a little bit?

I guess I can’t fret and worry and guilt myself. I was a dumb kid, and I didn’t have a lot of examples of good-siblingship around me growing up (even among my aunts and uncles). What counts now is that she’s totally the best person ever, even though she still gets me really, really pissed sometimes (and I’m very confident I piss her off, too). I just love her. I guess the fact that she asked me to officiate her wedding shows that she doesn’t hate me that much for being such a shit to her when we were kids.

I have a hard time even thinking of a favorite memory of her, but I think it’s from our adulthood: whenever I make her laugh until she pees her pants. It has happened several times. I’m sure it will happen again. When we get together, it’s just so weird. We’re both so weird, and we’re the only ones who see this specific, super weird side of one another. I’m devolving now into territory not worth writing about, not only because I can’t explain it, but also because you just have to be one of us to get it.

Anyways. That’s all I have to say in response to the prompt. Now, my initial reflection on the prompt: I strayed, didn’t I? It wasn’t all happiness and joy. Not everyone has happiness and joy in their childhood. But what my heart is full of now (and was overflowing with last weekend at the wedding) was happiness and joy. During the toast, I kept repeating how happy I was—to the point where someone in the crowd made a comment about it! But I don’t care. I don’t need fancy language or a fancy adjective to express it. I just felt totally, wholly, completely, down-to-my-bones happy. And that’s what a wedding is supposed to make you feel, right?

really hope she makes it to Indonesia soon. That would be so epic!! Sis?

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 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,

Sammy Meets Bromo

I’m so excited to share a little bit about finally making the trip to Bromo.

All photo credits in the gallery go to the lovely Sharis Coppens, who does fascinating documentary-based anthropological work in Peru that’s worth checking out. I realized the night before this trip that my camera wouldn’t hold a charge, and I’m very grateful to Sharis for sending these shots my way. Before now, all I had was a smartphone pic snapped of myself by a cute group of Indonesian college kids that I cajoled into enduring data costs for my sake…

So, oddly enough, I’d never actually been to Bromo Semeru Tengger National Park, despite its easy location in East Java; it was one of those things about which I kept telling myself “You have plenty of time!” only to realize that Peace Corps service was over. I’m so glad to have finally made this pilgrimage. Here’s a map with Malang and Bromo circled (click to enlarge):

At the time of the Bromo adventure, I had a couchsurfer with me–a German lady from Switzerland. We were picked up at midnight in a Range Rover, went east to the park after picking up Sharis and her partner and another tourist couple, saw everything, had lunch, saw some more things, and were back by noonish. But wow I tell ya, that trip felt like it was never going to end. Total exhaustion, but it was totally worth it!

Yes, I look the same in both of those photos, but there we are. Below you’ll find the rest–all taken by Sharis. I went through them one by one as best I can and explained what’s going on in the photos; click for gallery view so that you can see the whole captions, which will show up at the bottom of each image.


PS: The next week, my pals and I went back to Rainbow Falls for a little more fun. Coincidence! The first and only two times I’ve been there were in the same two-week time span. Anyways, I love these people and can’t wait to go to Ijen Crater with them in a couple of weeks!

Gili Trawangan is a Strange, Strange Place

Maria and I traveled to Gili Trawangan for New Years this year, and, despite the fact that we spent the majority of our waking hours sitting in the exact same spot in the exact same Indian cafe not looking at much but the ocean and the clouds, it sure was strange!

Gili Trawangan is one of a trio of islands, known as the Gilis, in Nusa Tenggara Barat, Indonesia. They’re off the coast of Lombok, the island home of the famous Rinjani volcano, and Lombok itself is east of Bali, which is east of Java. Here’s a map, with the Gili Islands circled (I’ve also circled Malang, where we live). Click to enlarge:

We flew in from Surabaya on separate planes and slept our first night in Senggigi, me in a “fancy” place where I was splurging for the night, and Maria in a crappy hostel. It was kind of a mistake how we ended up in Senggigi on the same night in the first place, which is why we didn’t stay together. My place ended up looking a little shabbier in real life than it did on the hotel site I used to make the reservation, but the staff was lovely, the balcony off my suite faced the ocean, and the bathroom and bedsheets were sparkling clean. Didn’t end up getting drunk on the beach that night as I thought I would, but I did enjoy some ocean-listening in the darkness and a great night of sleep.

In the morning, Maria came over to use the nice bathroom. We needed to leave together to catch the ferry to Gili, so we hung around my room for an hour or two, just chatting. Our chatting was a big theme of the vacation. We are both having some crazy times in our lives, so we made a good travel pair.

After a taxi ride to, well, near the port, we took a cidomo (horse and carriage) to the ferry. Naturally, we had to stop at the cidomo driver’s friend’s business where people tried to haggle with us to organize our transportation. We said no thanks and explained we were just waiting for the public ferry. After a few confusing moments and even more hectic moments in the port proper, we got our tickets and went to the shore to catch the boat. The transportation hagglers (hawkers?) were super intense, even more so than in Bali. There’s a speedboat service for twenty dollars that gets you to the island in five minutes, and a public ferry that takes half an hour, but costs just a couple of bucks; I don’t think many foreigners take the public ferry, so the hawkers were really trying to get us. If I remember correctly, we were indeed the only foreigners on the public ferry– if not on the way there, but definitely on the way back; I don’t remember any other non-Indonesians on the first ferry. The boat was a rickety old wooden one, crammed with people and stuff but completely safe (or something).

We landed and had to overcome that terrible first hurdle on any travel adventure: find the place we booked to stay. There aren’t any motor vehicles allowed on the islands (yay!), so we had to rely either on the horse and carriage or our own two feet. Lots of people use bicycles on Gili T, but we had our luggage, so that wasn’t an option. Maria had booked us a hostel a month before the trip, which seemed to be the last available room on the entire island; everything was crazy full and crowded for New Years. Our hostel was a newish one, so it wasn’t on the GPS. We decided to explore a little bit while looking for the homestay, hoping that among the many many signs for various hostels and hotels posted on walls and at intersections, we’d see ours: Gili Tralala. Little did we know that this is also the nickname of the island, which would make finding the hostel that much more difficult.

My initial impression of the island and the atmosphere there was just WOW. There’s basically one major boulevard, and it’s lined with shops, boutiques, learn-to-dive resorts, cafes, bars, and restaurants. One side butts up right against the ocean, so most restaurants have oceanfront dining, which is so lovely. There were tons of foreigners around: lots of beach babes and big, buff dudes and a multitude of quirky folks since the Gilis are a major dive attraction in Indonesia (my basic estimation after my Indonesia travels is that divers are a quirky bunch). The most pleasing thing to my eye was the number of cafes with an international flair: we saw Indian, Italian, “Latin-Mexican” (whatever that is), French, etc etc! It was magical. The food scene in Malang is decent, but there’s definitely not a strip of internationally themed cafes anywhere in the city, especially not setting right next to a sparkling teal-blue oceanfront!

Eventually, we made our way down a side street with lots of signs, hoping that our hostel would be there. A nice young kid on a bike asked us where we were going, so we told him: Gili Tralala. He gave directions and we followed, promptly realizing that he had mistakenly, albeit with good intentions, directed us to a mural that said Gili Tralala. We found another man, also on a bicycle, and asked for help again. He took Maria’s rolling suitcase for us and started asking around. We made it, eventually, but not after a good twenty minutes of trudging around in the mud and muck. Our hostel seemed to be relatively in the sticks, and the arrival was, of course, strange.

The hostel had over-booked itself, so we got downgraded for the first night into a shared dorm. No big deal, except the travelers also in the dorm smelled like buttholes and sawed logs like a pair of professionals. The owner, an older Austrian man who has been living in Indonesia for seven years and doesn’t speak a lick of bahasa, was somewhat apologetic and promised us a private room for the next night. The rooms were shit and way over-priced for the New Year, but we were happy to find a place to drop our stuff and sleep at night. The best part of the hostel was the Lombok couple who managed it, and the worse part, by far, was the maniacal rooster that crowed its pitiful, morose crow all night every night, starting at about two in the morning.

The majority of our vacation was spent parked at the Indian restaurant about five minutes by foot from our hostel, on the main strip and, of course, on the oceanfront. I liked it so much I’d even link to it in case other travelers ever read this blog (or in case non-travelers want to check it out). I think I may even write a Trip Advisor review about how amazing it was, which I’ve never done before because I’ve never cared so much. The cafe is part of the Pesona resort, which does dive training and dives and also has a homestay/hotel. It’s owned (as far as I can tell) by a real live Indian family or family of Indian descent, so the food was legit…not like some restaurants, Indonesian and American, too, that offer ethnic foods but don’t really know how to prepare them well. I’m remembering Maria’s story of ordering something along the lines of gnocchi bolognese in Malang and ending up getting cubes of boiled potatoes with tasteless beef jerky gristle. Blessed be, the Pesona cafe was not of this type.

The food there was absolutely incredible. I can’t even find the words to describe the experience of eating that food. I think the best indicator of our contentment was that we ended up staying there every single day for five to seven hours, eating food, drinking amazing local coffee (and sometimes espresso treats!!!), smoking shisha, and enjoying happy hour. They had floor seating with nice wooden tables and lovely lush cushions; we sat and ate, sat and ate, and chatted for hours and hours. And oh the food, oh the food!! The naan! The chutneys! The paneer and the sauces! Oh drool. Oh, drool! We must have spent 75% of our budget at this place, and it was worth every single penny. If you ever to go Gili, you must go to Pesona. The only better Indian food I have ever had was in India. This topped everything I’ve ever had in the States, even the lovely Indian joints in Bloomington. I could keep going and going about how amazing it was. Thank goodness Maria and I are of the same mindset and could enjoy the countless hours of sitting and chatting and eating and eating, not really caring about doing much else. Just take this in for a minute and imagine this splendid tastiness on your tongue:

#Foodgasm is all we could say. On the last day, we tried to find an alternative joint to try. We walked up and down the strip for an hour before giving in a returning to Pesona. We really did try! But in the end it wasn’t too hard to give up on the search and get back to the Indian joint, especially since the cute waitress saw us walk by in the morning and basically jumped for joy and yelled, “Hey, beautiful ladies!” when she saw us. The day before we had started getting discounts in the form of happy hour specials way before happy hour even started; how could we neglect Pesona on our last day? We would have left the island full of regret. So, we did the right thing, obviously.

The other notable feature of this trip was the nightlife on Gili T, at least in the downtown area. We didn’t go wild and crazy as perhaps we would have a few years ago, but rather chose to remain aloof and take it all in, observing all of the strange drunken people in action. We had a nice New Years doing just that, drinking cocktails while sitting on bean bags watching fireworks near the water. The funniest part of traveling with Maria and enjoying the Gili T nightlife–besides her funny jokes and stories–was the attention her big, beautiful hair received, and it attracted people more easily as the long, late nights went on and people became increasingly emboldened by drink. One pair of strange birds in kilts (see picture below, courtesy of @raeraeraeraerae) were especially interested and approached us as we were walking down the promenade on New Years day, in the eveningtime.

Maria engaged with them, being the travel writer and outgoing person she is, and I kept right on walking, fumbling with my phone and pretending to be super preoccupied and way too chic for it all. These dudes were huge, buff, and shirtless, plus wearing kilts and making all sorts of smiley goo-faces and being too interested in us. Maria, in her excitement and to my great mortification, called me over to chat. (Afterwords, she said she knew I wasn’t into it, but just felt like she had to call me over since the darker man claimed to be Native American and she knows my background and interest…I was skeptical of him and didn’t really mind, in the end, that she called me over. She didn’t mean any harm.) They shook my hand and just leaned in a little too close during the conversation, ending with an invite for us to join them later at a bar up the way. Of course we didn’t, but it wasn’t our last interaction with them…

We saw them schmoozing it up the next day, still in their kilty glory, in the bar across the way from where we were sitting. Friends, it truly was a show. They were up on all kinds of ladies, and everyone seemed to know them. I came to the conclusion that they must own the bar, and Maria said if they did then the kilt schtick would be great marketing/promotion. We sat on our bar stools watching the crowd for a good three house, making up stories about people and eavesdropping like a pair of old lady friends. We are great people watchers. At one point we were considering surreptitiously filming people and providing commentary in order to make a people watching YouTube channel, which I still think is a good idea. There were just so many oddballs to watch: an older drunk man in red with cowboy boots fawning over a local guy, a pair of tortured young lovers whose story we just couldn’t figure out because their body language was so awkward, an older couple arguing over some Facebook photos indicting the man in the pair for being out and about partying when he had told the woman he wasn’t, a pair of sultry ladies with hip style being totally aloof about it all (haha, no not us, in addition to us), and oh my gosh more. It wasn’t as debauched as Kuta, Bali, but there was plenty to keep us entertained until the wee hours.

As you can imagine, we both felt great by the end of the trip, despite a questionable snorkeling excursion that I don’t even want to rehash. Travelling back to Malang took an exhausting ten hours, but Maria is sure she’ll go back to Gili T for diving. I feel like I can finally check the Gilis off my travel list; it’s kind of a right of passage to hit up these types of famous tourist places (I felt the same about certain spots in Bali) despite that one can find exciting and off-the-beaten-path alternative destinations quite easily when equipped with bahasa and a decent budget for transportation. I had a good time and will fantasize about the food for the rest of my life, and I’m glad to have traveled with Maria to experience her perspective and build a new friendship. All in all, we each spent about $350-400 for the whole thing (including plane tickets), so from a practical perspective it was very worth it, and there’s no price to be set on getting closer to a new friend in such a beautiful place. A strange, beautiful place.


100 Things I Find Maddening about Indonesia

These kids are feisty. Lives lived in a feverish frenzy, all bursting hearts. Don’t like being let down. Hungry for a challenge. These kids don’t want their hands held. They know that tough love is one of the best loves, and they run heart-first into the thick of it.

This post is going to be about what revolts, disgusts, enrages, embitters, and disappoints me about experiencing, studying, and living Indonesia, as myself in all my bias and positionality. So, some caveats are necessary.

There are plenty of amazing things about Indonesia that keep me inspired and mystified; Java is a magical place, and I greatly enjoy living here. My curiosity and confusion–as much about my own experiences as the country and culture, land and people–lures me back, lures me out into the Java-world, lures me away from my home and into a liminal space of contradictions and strange syntheses: emotions, realities, ideas, beliefs, and actions that make little sense but seem to be the way “here” functions.

As someone whose current career trajectory and personal history position me not as a wayfarer just passing through Indonesia on the way to an elsewhere, other-time future, I feel both responsible and justified, in an ethical sense, to explore the elements of Indonesian society and culture that leave something to be desired. Of course, these are all merely my (mere) perceptions. And it’s tough love. I wish I heard more Indonesians constructively criticizing their world or at least doing so in conversation with me, but I’m happy to share my feelings and thoughts on these matters if there’s any remote possibility that I could in any way help the efforts of the activists, social critics, and political dissidents in Indonesia trying to get the ball of change and revolution rolling. If this post it in any way validates what they’re doing, seeing, and feeling, then perhaps its ultimately a shot at solidarity? Unity of opinion? We have to agree on what’s wrong before we can work together for change. Too much empty rhetoric? Too narrow of an audience, surely. But here I am.

There are plenty (plenty) of elements of American society and culture that I find beyond revolting, and sharing thoughts and feelings about these subjects does not make me remorseful in the slightest. I feel the same about my criticisms of “Indonesia”–my second home country, for all intents and purposes. We should all be invested in improving our world. Being honest and certain about the flaws of ourselves and our countries is one step towards holding responsible the people, politicians, institutions, and/or socio-political/cultural/religious systems that cause pain in our lives and, quite often, wreak havoc on people and the planet.

Many of the items on the list are problems in my country and other countries around the world; that I’m pointing these out doesn’t mean I love this world, my country, or Indonesia any less. In fact, quite the opposite. I’m quite sure that sharing like this is all too American, but there we are; no matter how many of my Javanese friends insist that I’m turning, I’m not actually Javanese. The only thing I’m sure I am is imperfect.

So, in absolutely no particular order, here’s my list:

  1. Littering / pollution culture and the fact that parents don’t teach their children to throw garbage in the trash despite knowing about global warming and the consequences of pollution to the environment (see #97)
  2. A long history of repression of political dissent on the part of the Indonesian government
  3. Colonial hangover / cultural PTSD: Indonesians, especially the Javanese, were mentally traumatized during the colonial period and developed extreme inferiority complexes. Deference to the superiority of the Dutch was ingrained into the cultural subconscious. Today, this history is written in the interactions that westerners, especially light-skinned ones, have in Indonesia. Granted, Indonesians are often very polite, warm, and welcoming to foreigners and in general with one another, but the extremity of obeisance to light-skinned westerners, is disturbing. My office friends and I call this, with tongues in cheeks, “bule (foreigner) power.” Foreigners are often granted special privileges and treated with extreme respect, and–as you probably expected–there are plenty of westerners who abuse this power dynamic. So, the anger here for me is directed at the Dutch colonial regime and the contemporary foreigners who abuse their positions, with annoyance at this element of culture in general because it reproduces itself through generations.
  4. Lack of a standardized system of education for people with exceptional needs (and, frankly, human rights abuses involving people with exceptional needs)
  5. The extreme wealth gap
  6. Skin-whitening “beauty” products
  7. Getting the third degree from skeevy dudes about who I am, where I’m from, what I’m doing here…it’s just chit-chat, but for some reason I have a hard time being rude (so I suppose this is a personal problem…but it’s also about how frustrating it can be my body language and signals of disinterest don’t “work” here)
  8. Fucking flies, ants, and cockroaches everywhere all the time
  9. Racism towards dark-skinned people, such as people of African and Melanesian descent
  10. The questionable treatment of Indigenous Peoples here, especially regarding land rights and government concessions to multinational extractive industry giants
  11. People who have conversations on their two motorcycles while driving slowly in front of me
  12. That moment when you realize the food you just put in your mouth has already spoiled (because it has been sitting out all day)
  13. MSG in everything (I’ve talked plenty about this before, I know, but it had to make the list)
  14. No being able to get water in any container but plastic; not trusting that boiling tap water will be enough to sanitize and therefore being effectively forced to drink every drop of water I consume from plastic
  15. Young people who don’t look before crossing the street (no magic hand, no checking left-right, just strolling into the middle of the road like they’re the only ones in the world, backs to traffic and no backwards glance)
  16. Watching people I love and care about eat so much sugar and rice all the time, knowing it’s just awful for their health, and not being able to do much about it at all
  17. Lack of infrastructure, especially decent, well-moving highways
  18. The cultural pressure on women and young girls to marry early, ideally well before age twenty-five, and the fact that getting pregnant after 1-2 months of marriage is generally viewed as a great thing. Actually, there are all sorts of things about marriage I disagree with, both in Indonesia and in general, but I think the issue feels particularly acute to me since the pressure on young people to marry is so pervasive here. I would call it bullying and abuse. Chalk it up to lack of understanding or unwillingness to understand, but these are my thoughts. I’ve talked to too many Indonesian women and girls who see this situation similarly to accept that I’m just imposing my own cultural expectations and beliefs on the situation.
  19. Motorcycling men who grab pedestrian women’s breasts and speed away (this didn’t happen to me, but it has happened to more than one woman I know)
  20. Motorcyclists who don’t wear helmets. I especially hate seeing families of two helmeted parents and one or two helmetless kids on one motorcycle, or helmetless kids propped up in the front of the bike on the lap of a helmeted adult driver. If you can afford a motorcycle, gas, motorcycle maintenance fees, taxes and registration fees, and to buy whatever you’re going to buy when you end up wherever you’re going, then you can afford to protect the head of your child.
  21. LGBT human rights abuses and lack of healthcare/sex ed and disease prevention ed for this population
  22. Lack of sex ed for all students. Generally, if a girl gets pregnant, she is no longer permitted to attend school, and her family pressures her to marry the father of the child as soon as possible. The boy is not always kicked out of school and could deny his actions and probably get off the hook; the negative consequences of the lack of sex ed fall disproportionately on young girls
  23. Lack of basic dental care for the majority of citizens, probably due to affordability and the pervasiveness of non-professional/non-medically-trained dentists in rural and semi-rural areas
  24. Guys who tease one another about being feminine and being womanly/girly/un-masculine without realizing the sexism inherent in this teasing (happens in the US all the time, of course, about being girly/gay/ghetto/etc.)
  25. The severity of legal and social repercussions for those wishing to express freely their religious beliefs; there are six legally permitted religious options in Indonesia, and atheism is effectively illegal
  26. Internet and media censorship on the part of the government
  27. Pervasive anti-Semitism (I once met a man who, upon first meeting and after asking me my name and religion, interrogated me about whether I’d ever consider marrying a Jewish person)
  28. No wide-scale recycling initiatives or community recycling programs to make recycling easy and commonplace
  29. Human trafficking and sex trafficking
  30. Rampant fat shaming (this is not just my construction of what is really harmless teasing as “fat shaming;” it is actually fat shaming. I have spoken to several Indonesian women about the negative effects of body shaming for their mental and physical well-being; beauty standard issues are just as problematic for women’s lives here as in the west)
  31. Despite rampant fat shaming, women in rural and semi-rural areas (and many urban areas) have very few opportunities to engage in fitness activities due to standards of modesty and the inappropriateness of too much female exertion
  32. Indonesian stereotypes about foreigners: girls are easy, foreigners just want to party in Bali, every foreigner is wealthy, etc. Of course, there’s a basis for these stereotypes in reality (and Hollywood has to shoulder some of the blame), but no matter where you are in the world or who you are, being stereotyped is shitty (and can also be very dangerous)
  33. Chemical pesticides that kill farmers are necessary to sustain the massive rice production so necessary to the people here and for the Indonesian GDP
  34. Kids in the lowest socioeconomic stratum can be roped into gangs of street children forced to beg in the streets and report back to their gang bosses to give over all profits. Children are threatened with physical violence to make sure they don’t try to escape or go back to their families
  35. There’s a lot of rotting garbage on the sides of roads and in most waterways
  36. People drink and consume so much sugar here, it’s just crazy; kids’ teeth rot out black from their heads, and parents aren’t empowered with the knowledge to prevent bad habits and poor health in their children. If they are aware, then they consciously choose to ignore promoting good habits in their children, which is almost more insidious and disturbing
  37. In my experience, Indonesians can’t and won’t queue. They are ruthless
  38. Some Indonesian Muslims are often disgusted by and wary of pork-eaters; for me, it’s fine to do what you want for yourself, but it’s not fine to harbor negative feelings for others based on dietary choices, no matter what your religion says
  39. It’s incredibly easy for men to hire prostitutes and the hidden economy of this industry is enormous
  40. Nepotism is strong, even where civil servant / government positions are concerned
  41. Some people feel that making jokes at my expense because of the way I look, behave, and dress is acceptable, and they automatically assume that I don’t understand what they’re saying just because they are speaking Javanese
  42. To do my research, I had to get research clearance in order to get my temporary visa in order to get my permanent visa upon arrival after visiting federal, regional, and local authorities and police stations. I was also given letters to pass out to three authorities in every county in the regency I am conducting research in. This amounted to over one hundred letters. In one word: bureaucracy.
  43. Most local emblems are phallic monuments a la the Washington monument, and this greatly displeases me
  44. Fried food is everywhere, and it’s often when visiting people’s homes that I am effectively forced to partake of oily, fried carbohydrates that make me feel just terrible about my life
  45. The governments, federal/regional/local, don’t try hard enough to reform and/or ensure public transportation safety regulations to ensure the well-being of the general public
  46. Indomaret–effectively Indonesian Wal-Mart or CVS, if you will–while convenient, is driving out small, independent businesses left and right (I’m guilty of contributing)
  47. By my standards, which are of course totally and absolutely biased, more people than not have questionable table manners; Indonesia has forced me to the painful but ultimately beneficial realization that no matter how accepting and open-minded I fashion myself to be, there are some things that I just can’t stand and can’t accept, which means there are culturally engendered aspects to my personhood that are outside of my ability to control. Of course, I’d prefer to be a blissed-out, all-loving buddha-type, but it’s actually not achievable for me (at least presently), and this process of awakening to the reality of myself has been painful
  48. Police shakedowns and other forms of financial corruption are pervasive here, and even though they can be considered a cultural norm (and therefore off-limits to criticism by an outsider??), they still create a system of economic oppression where the poorest people (i.e. those who can’t afford to pay people off or pay people under the table to get things done faster) are barred from upward mobility
  49. Traffic
  50. Not many people enjoy reading as a hobby. Sometimes people try to get me to stop reading so much because they think I’ll get sick or dizzy from reading
  51. People often use gasoline as a cleaning product, and it smells awful and it just isn’t safe or healthy in any way
  52. Ice never stays ice as long as I’d like it to
  53. Salty fish on my plate
  54. I’m pretty sure there’s formaldehyde and borax in most meatball vendors’ meatball recipes (meatballs are as popular here as burgers and fries are in the US; that’s a lot of chemical consumption)
  55. Towels are outrageously expensive here
  56. Lots of people think that if they’re in the village or near home, it’s okay to ride their motorcycle without a helmet; protection is only deemed necessary on major roads and/or in the city
  57. There are very few social or welfare programs for “crazy people,” as the homeless and/or mentally ill people who roam the streets are deemed. They are almost universally reviled and ignored, even though the professed religious beliefs of the majority of people would suggest that charity and beneficence are important responsibilities and moral obligations (of course, hypocrites exist in every corner of human culture)
  58. It takes a very long time to go not-very-far distances; generally, it takes 4-5 hours to cover the same distance that it’d take 1-2 hours to cover in the US. This is primarily due to poor roads and poor infrastructure
  59. There are way too many plastic bags in circulation here and no system for reducing the use of plastics in development for the foreseeable future. I try to recycle the bags I use, but ultimately recycling within the home can only go so far. This is of course a global problem, but the gravity of it is particularly salient here since one can easily spot plastic waste in every waterway (sometimes even when snorkeling/scubaing in natural parks or preserves)
  60. The indirect communication style of the Javanese make it difficult for me to work through conflicts when they arise (of course, I’m sure that my direct style often creates difficulties for Javanese people; sometimes, cross-cultural communication is exceedingly challenging, as much as I’d like to believe I’m special and it should always be a cakewalk for me)
  61. Transgender and other trans* people are often reviled and shunned by general society and their individual families (as can be the case in the west)
  62. Indonesia is very far away from the US and very costly to get to; why can’t it be cheaper and closer? ::sly eye:: Doesn’t the world revolve around me?
  63. Sometimes, foreigners are abused for publicity purposes, and the experience can be dehumanizing
  64. Indonesia runs on jam karet or “rubber time”–basically, what we normally call “island time”–and sometimes it’s hard for me to remember, so I show up early or freak out unnecessarily about being on time
  65. Jam karet means that teachers are often late to class, but jam karet doesn’t mean that class periods get extended past their scheduled finish time, even if the teachers arrive late
  66. Some Indonesian guys grow their pinkie fingernails to excessive lengths and I find it quite repulsive; again, something makes me confront the fact that there are certain negative aspects of myself that I can’t change. I’ll never be as chill and accepting as I’d like to imagine I am (I can just imagine Scott and Lauren rolling their eyes and telling me I don’t have to accept everything and shouldn’t accept everything and/or telling me I’m a loon)
  67. Indonesian Facebook culture (I’m not going to clarify here…it’s too trivial…but it annoys me, to say the least. Did you ever realize or think about the fact that there’d be different social media cultures in different cultures? It is so obvious now, but it was so unexpected. And Indonesian FB culture can be very annoying; tags on advertisements and hundreds of outstanding friend requests from people I don’t know, to say the least)
  68. Inter-religious violence and terrorism is all too common here
  69. Bali has been effectively prostituted to the West and Australia/NZ for the sake of the national economy and tourism, and it’s depressing to go there (especially to Kuta) and witness the foreigners’ debauchery and the debasement of Bali. I am guilty of participation. I think as Bali developed as a tourist destination, it began responding to the demands of the visitors…and that’s why I started this item in the passive voice, since I don’t think that Indonesia would consciously sacrifice an entire island for the sake of tourism and economic gain, but I do think that Bali has been sacrificed in some ways
  70. It’s very difficult to find “plus-sized” clothing here, even though there are plenty of plus-sized girls. I often see fuller-figured ladies wearing clothes that are way too tight for them and obviously uncomfortable, especially bras. It’s also hard to find large-sized women’s shoes
  71. Another item related to being bigger in Indonesia: pervasive plastic stools are often the only seating option. These stools are made for tiny, light people, so for me there’s always a constant fear that the stool will collapse and everyone will laugh and I will be horribly embarrassed. I assume other larger people (Indonesians included) feel the same
  72. Standards for child-rearing and disciplining are very different here, and some Indonesian children’s behavior makes me feel uncomfortable and angry. I want to discipline them, but I know I can’t without causing upset on the part of the parent, so I have to stifle my urges and find a way to trust that the children will turn out fine (even if it seems to me like they are allowed to be complete monsters and demand that their every whim be catered to! Although as I re-read this, it sounds just like some American kids and parents I’ve known…not you, my dear readers with children)
  73. Double standards: foreigners often get special privileges and treatment over natives for no simple reason other than their foreignness (see #3)
  74. Because of the aforementioned indirect communication style here, bullying is much more subtle than in the US, so it’s hard to catch and correct. Imagine if there was only cyber-bullying in the US…that’s pretty much how it is here, based on my experiences teaching
  75. Mold grows freely and with alarming rapidity wherever it damn well pleases, including on walls, floors, and clean/stored clothing–especially during the rainy season
  76. As an outsider, I find Indonesian politics quite tricky to get a decent grasp on because there are so many political parties that are united into various coalitions (and for a variety of other factors as well); there doesn’t seem much to do besides try to get a grasp by keeping up to date with current events, and I haven’t been able to find many resources to help me understand the basics. I suppose trying to learn the details of a political situation/system so foreign to me is what I’m getting at, so perhaps this isn’t really specific to Indonesia, but there you are
  77. On a very light and ridiculous, self-serving note, I can’t access free Spotify, Netflix, Hulu, etc. ::galau::
  78. The Pemuda Pancasila (and I don’t even care if they read this list)
  79. Speaking of free speech, this past August, a university student in Jogjakarta twittered some negative commentaries about her campus administration and Jogjakarta in general, made national news, and was punished by relevant authorities for her comments. If I’m remembering correctly, she was suspended from classes for the remainder of the semester and not refunded her school fees
  80. Recent Indonesian history (I’m thinking especially since World War II) is generally outside the realm of socially acceptable topics of discussion, especially the issue of mass murder of “communists” and other leftists in the mid-1960s.* There has still been no form of reparations or apology to the general public on behalf of the government or any citizens’ groups, and many of the perpetrators of murder during this time period still roam free (you may have heard of or seen The Act of Killing)
  81. Women have no access to a sufficiently wide variety of menstrual hygiene products; the only widely available menstrual hygiene product is the menstrual pad. Tampons are not widely accessible because they are inserted into the vagina and can damage the hymen, leading to the common belief that tampons ruin a girl’s virginity (which is still highly prized and necessary for a girl to be of marriageable quality). There are no menstrual cups available of any kind, as far as I can tell. Let’s not even talk about access to contraceptives or the social acceptability of a woman purchasing condoms at a store, especially in rural areas
  82. Kartini Day is supposed to honor Princess Kartini for her feminist writings and positions as well as her efforts to improve girls’ access to education, but in many areas Kartini Day seems to be reduced to a chance for girls to dress up and get made up in the old-fashioned style of Kartini’s era without critical reflection on the state of women’s rights in contemporary Indonesian society
  83. Have I mentioned the mosquitoes?
  84. Men here, as in much of the west, are taught to hide the more “feminine” of their feelings and emotions; crying is a sign of weakness. There are rigorous cultural standards of masculinity here and plenty of damaging repercussions for men who don’t or can’t conform
  85. Indonesia is the third-highest producer of rice in the world (behind China and India), yet still imports rice. The new administration seeks rice self-sufficiency, but at this point it’s still importing due to inefficient production techniques and extremely high per capita rice consumption
  86. Flip-flops, one of the most common forms of footwear in and for Indonesia, are gawked and laughed at if worn in public. They are viewed as bathroom shoes and poor-people shoes, so wearing them in public is very distasteful despite the insane practicality of flip-flops for this climate/environment
  87. The most common form of trash disposal is burning (obviously, landfills aren’t better and we as humans don’t have an efficient system for trash disposal…but burning is particularly disgusting to me)
  88. In rural areas, based on my experience, it’s not very acceptable for unmarried girls and young women to go outside of the house unaccompanied after dusk
  89. Mangoes, when picked unripe, are like pears: you wait and wait for them to ripen, and when they’re finally ripe it’s for about five minutes, and you are inevitably asleep or out of the house and thus do not to enjoy the mango you waited so long for
  90. It’s very hard to find wine here (at least in East Java, in my experience) and, if you do happen to find it, it’s quite expensive. During PC, we used to buy $30 bottles at an Italian restaurant in Surabaya…and that was all we ever found
  91. Indonesian TV commercials…I have a love/hate relationship with Indonesian commercials. Good for language learning but terribly annoying and grating at times
  92. Second-hand smoke; it’s still culturally acceptable to smoke in most offices and buildings, so avoiding second-hand smoke is very difficult
  93. Indonesia is a land of immense natural beauty, and much of it is being slowly destroyed (e.g., waterways and pollution, land/forest degradation and extractive industries, coral reef destruction and natural habitat loss…again, these problems are not limited to Indonesia but are global in scope)
  94. A4 paper. What’s with that. It doesn’t fit in my bag, people.
  95. Certificates and attendance of conferences, trainings, workshops, etc., are often viewed as more valuable than whatever new skills or knowledge could have been gleaned from active participation
  96. Social norms of hierarchy make it pretty much always acceptable to be interrupted by someone who views him/herself as the socially superior person in the conversation (lack of egalitarianism in social interactions; to me, this is a challenge…and I think some of my Indonesian friends have also been frustrated by this before)
  97. Large crowds more often and in more places than I’m used to (you all know I can’t stand a crowd!)
  98. This one’s from my friend: if there’s no rule or clear direction for what to do, people are paralyzed. However, if there are clear rules and people know them, they decide not to follow/obey
  99. The fact that I have to think twice about publishing this because there could, theoretically, be social/political repercussions for me, even though I view myself as simply sharing my opinions, thoughts, and feelings. There are standards for what’s allowed to be shared and criticized here and what’s not. This is probably not a super-safe set of topics to write about, and blatant criticism is very un-Indonesian (read: outside the cultural norm)
  100. Actually, I like Indonesia so much that I didn’t want to finish this list. At about #59, I started to wonder whether or not to continue. I find it maddening that despite all of these problems, I still love Indonesia, which is exactly how I feel about the States. I find it maddening that I can’t just magically fix everything. I find my own optimism maddening at times. I find it maddening that my loved ones have to live in such an imperfect world. But, maddeningly, we need all of the imperfection, ugliness, hate, and filth to give substance to our potential, beauty, magic, and love. I believe in the in-betweens, but I believe as well in the truth of certain binary oppositions; the reason we feel passionate about changing the world is because we are full to bursting with both love and hate.

Interestingly, this list took me two days to create; its friend, 100 Things I Love about Indonesia (Redux), took about two hours to write. It’s much harder to explore the negatives. This was a heavy entry for me! I blame this list-or, the act of producing this list–for my sour mood yesterday…

If you’d like to learn more or explore some other writings about any of these topics, feel free to leave a comment and I will share resources. Or, you can always Google stuff. I thought about linking to external resources throughout, but it’s easier for me if you just request what you want (if anything). I’d very much like to hear responses/criticisms from anyone who might be reading this with experience in Indonesia.

And so, that’s all from me.

*The US effectively sanctioned these killings because, well, the Cold War.

100 Things I Love about Indonesia (Redux)

In no particular order:

  1. Friends (what else can I say? heartstrings.)
  2. Call to prayer
  3. Fried tempeh and spicy sambal
  4. Cute, trendy fashionistas
  5. Snack boxes and meal boxes with tasty sweets and juicy meats
  6. Electronic tennis rackets for killing mosquitoes
  7. Green, green, green all around
  8. Great meals for under a dollar
  9. Cloudy, rainy morning peacefulness during the monsoon season
  10. Laundry service on every corner for lazy people
  11. Fruit stalls on the side of the road year-round
  12. Being able to go home from work when sick/tired/headachey and not feeling guilty or being shamed by coworkers/supervisors
  13. Crazy linguistic environment for non-stop left brain hemisphere stimulation
  14. Karaoke, Indo-style
  15. Really juicy pens
  16. Friendly neighbors who’ll always make you a cup of tea
  17. Rice paddies in the sunset
  18. Learning never to neglect appreciating the value of a cool, passing breeze
  19. Cheap fresh ginger, garlic, chilis, spices, fruits, coffee…
  20. The meatball man’s wooden block call (tok tok tok-tok tok-tok tok-tok-tok-tok-tok)
  21. Students’ endless, organic artistic creativity
  22. Batik and tailors
  23. The fact that there has been a female president of this country
  24. The dudes who help guide traffic, freelance-style, in crazy intersections
  25. My current very supportive work environment
  26. Traffic light count-down displays
  27. Interesting people to pester and demand stories from
  28. Traditional medicinals (jamu)
  29. Javanese baby cheeks, free for the pinching
  30. Dudes who transport menageries on their motorcycles
  31. Dangdut music blasting from loudspeakers (as long as I can get away from it eventually)
  32. Caked-on, over-the-top makeup
  33. Shops with rows and rows of headscarves (jilbab) for sale in every color and with every type of rhinestone and sequin in every pattern imaginable
  34. Traditional massage and modern reflexology massage
  35. Funny socks with a separated big toe so wearers can use flip-flops with socks
  36. Futsal fun
  37. Perfume stands where you can get cheap knock-off perfume mixed while you wait
  38. Easy and convenient (if not always safe) public transportation system
  39. Daily greeting-handshakes with coworkers (which used to annoy me, but now I love it)
  40. No carpets = no need for a vacuum
  41. Cheek-kisses, European-style, which are quite popular and just so sweet
  42. Fascinating history to study and learn about
  43. Janky-ass museums that are, at the same time, super amazing
  44. The fact that “ketchup” means soy sauce and ketchup is known as “tomato sauce”
  45. Domestic brews that always hit the spot, even though really they are watery and terrible
  46. Increasingly flexible hip joints that feel so good (thank you, squatty potties)
  47. The daily Jakarta Post (basically the Indo NYT) English-language version, published everyday
  48. Sparkly Qur’anic verses in golden thread on black velvet canvases
  49. Ritual meal-sharing (slametan) for special occasions
  50. Old women who specialize in infant care, doula-esque stuff, and baby massage
  51. Fabrics that don’t stretch out after repeated hand-washings (unlike those of most of the clothes I bring from the US)
  52. The crazy memories get stirred when I catch a whiff of clove cigarette smoke or rotting garbage/sewage or a certain brand of mosquito repellent or unrefrigerated meat or jasmine tea…and a variety of other Indo-scents
  53. Bright blue butterflies and other pretty flying things
  54. Indonesian toddlers who are just young enough not to realize I’m that different
  55. Indonesian toddlers who burst into tears at the sight of my pasty face
  56. Indonesian toddlers who call me auntie at their mothers’ prodding
  57. Indonesian toddlers
  58. How I learn to laugh at what would normally be extremely frustrating, because if I don’t laugh I’d surely go insane
  59. Paradise sunsets
  60. Old ladies who don’t realize I can’t understand their Javanese and just keep talking at me and stroking my arm as if I understand them perfectly
  61. School and office uniforms
  62. STMJ: susu (milk), telur (egg), madu (honey), jahe (ginger); an amazingly delicious cold-killing drink served warm and made to order (imagine hot chocolate for consistency/mouthfeel but sweet creamy ginger goodness instead of chocolate for taste)
  63. How various regions have their own styles and motifs of batik cloth
  64. The scent of fresh jasmine flowers
  65. Live gamelan performances
  66. Live wayang kulit performances
  67. Eating with one’s fingers (which, by the way, actually does make food taste better)
  68. Greasy, dirty, MSG-filled spicy fried rice with egg, chilies, and green onions
  69. Indonesian TV commercials, which are great for language-learning
  70. Boiled veggies with galangal
  71. Ladies-only gyms
  72. Food cooked in fresh banana leaf packets
  73. Super-talented buskers and street performers
  74. Of course, amazing scenery: waterfalls, mountains, rice paddies, fields of sugar cane, volcanoes, palm and banana and coconut trees…
  75. Meatball stands with steamed tofu for sale
  76. Babies in headscarves (which we PCVs have affectionately dubbed “jilbabies”)
  77. Old ladies in old-fashioned Javanese sarongs, walking around with their boobs all out, totally carefree and chill, or wearing unbuttoned old-timey shirts
  78. Hordes of giggling teens obviously interested in asking for a photo but way too shy to go through with who burst into convulsive fits of amusement when approached
  79. Singing the Indonesian national anthem (I don’t know why, it’s just great fun)
  80. Craftsmanship industries, such as carving/woodwork, which are still going strong
  81. Side-of-the-road restaurants and Indo-style food trucks (which are basically souped-up wheelbarrows complete with mini-kitchens and display windows)
  82. The funny Indonesian obsession with (gross) shredded cheese as an ingredient for classy pastries and desserts
  83. The booming “herbals” industry, which makes it relatively easy (or at least possible) to get natural/clean products like soaps and lotions without too many chemical additives
  84. Seemingly random Indonesian-Chinese Buddhist shrines, always bright red and gold, seeping fragrant incense into the streets
  85. Durian
  86. Riding on the back of motorcycles
  87. Driving motorcycles
  88. Infinite variation of accessories and clothing items available for purchase since home industries and local businesses haven’t quite yet been taken over by mass industry chains like we see in the US; on average, I see more variation here
  89. Karaoke machines on buses
  90. Emotional and over-the-top Indonesian soap operas, known as cinetron
  91. Indonesian rappers and hip hop artists
  92. Free range Javanese roosters and chickens, which are tall, slender, multi-colored, and gorgeous
  93. Velveteen peci hats for men
  94. Peanut sauce over veggies, grilled chicken skewers, boiled spinach, rice medallions…over anything, really
  95. Teasing/affection culture (my Raycraft style fits right in)
  96. Hand-painted signs and advertisements
  97. Endless and fascinating seeming-contradictions that make Javanese culture ‘work’
  98. Fresh young coconut drink (es degan)
  99. Magic and mysticism, traditional healing, the pervasive belief in ghosts and place-spirits, spooky stories, and getting the shivers about all of these things
  100. Being able to learn something new (and probably weird) each day by simply starting a conversation

To follow: 100 Things I Find Maddening about Indonesia