By the way, my sister is blogging about Indonesia here!!!
In no particular order:
- Friends (what else can I say? heartstrings.)
- Call to prayer
- Fried tempeh and spicy sambal
- Cute, trendy fashionistas
- Snack boxes and meal boxes with tasty sweets and juicy meats
- Electronic tennis rackets for killing mosquitoes
- Green, green, green all around
- Great meals for under a dollar
- Cloudy, rainy morning peacefulness during the monsoon season
- Laundry service on every corner for lazy people
- Fruit stalls on the side of the road year-round
- Being able to go home from work when sick/tired/headachey and not feeling guilty or being shamed by coworkers/supervisors
- Crazy linguistic environment for non-stop left brain hemisphere stimulation
- Karaoke, Indo-style
- Really juicy pens
- Friendly neighbors who’ll always make you a cup of tea
- Rice paddies in the sunset
- Learning never to neglect appreciating the value of a cool, passing breeze
- Cheap fresh ginger, garlic, chilis, spices, fruits, coffee…
- The meatball man’s wooden block call (tok tok tok-tok tok-tok tok-tok-tok-tok-tok)
- Students’ endless, organic artistic creativity
- Batik and tailors
- The fact that there has been a female president of this country
- The dudes who help guide traffic, freelance-style, in crazy intersections
- My current very supportive work environment
- Traffic light count-down displays
- Interesting people to pester and demand stories from
- Traditional medicinals (jamu)
- Javanese baby cheeks, free for the pinching
- Dudes who transport menageries on their motorcycles
- Dangdut music blasting from loudspeakers (as long as I can get away from it eventually)
- Caked-on, over-the-top makeup
- 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
- Traditional massage and modern reflexology massage
- Funny socks with a separated big toe so wearers can use flip-flops with socks
- Futsal fun
- Perfume stands where you can get cheap knock-off perfume mixed while you wait
- Easy and convenient (if not always safe) public transportation system
- Daily greeting-handshakes with coworkers (which used to annoy me, but now I love it)
- No carpets = no need for a vacuum
- Cheek-kisses, European-style, which are quite popular and just so sweet
- Fascinating history to study and learn about
- Janky-ass museums that are, at the same time, super amazing
- The fact that “ketchup” means soy sauce and ketchup is known as “tomato sauce”
- Domestic brews that always hit the spot, even though really they are watery and terrible
- Increasingly flexible hip joints that feel so good (thank you, squatty potties)
- The daily Jakarta Post (basically the Indo NYT) English-language version, published everyday
- Sparkly Qur’anic verses in golden thread on black velvet canvases
- Ritual meal-sharing (slametan) for special occasions
- Old women who specialize in infant care, doula-esque stuff, and baby massage
- Fabrics that don’t stretch out after repeated hand-washings (unlike those of most of the clothes I bring from the US)
- 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
- Bright blue butterflies and other pretty flying things
- Indonesian toddlers who are just young enough not to realize I’m that different
- Indonesian toddlers who burst into tears at the sight of my pasty face
- Indonesian toddlers who call me auntie at their mothers’ prodding
- Indonesian toddlers
- How I learn to laugh at what would normally be extremely frustrating, because if I don’t laugh I’d surely go insane
- Paradise sunsets
- 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
- School and office uniforms
- 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)
- How various regions have their own styles and motifs of batik cloth
- The scent of fresh jasmine flowers
- Live gamelan performances
- Live wayang kulit performances
- Eating with one’s fingers (which, by the way, actually does make food taste better)
- Greasy, dirty, MSG-filled spicy fried rice with egg, chilies, and green onions
- Indonesian TV commercials, which are great for language-learning
- Boiled veggies with galangal
- Ladies-only gyms
- Food cooked in fresh banana leaf packets
- Super-talented buskers and street performers
- Of course, amazing scenery: waterfalls, mountains, rice paddies, fields of sugar cane, volcanoes, palm and banana and coconut trees…
- Meatball stands with steamed tofu for sale
- Babies in headscarves (which we PCVs have affectionately dubbed “jilbabies”)
- Old ladies in old-fashioned Javanese sarongs, walking around with their boobs all out, totally carefree and chill, or wearing unbuttoned old-timey shirts
- 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
- Singing the Indonesian national anthem (I don’t know why, it’s just great fun)
- Craftsmanship industries, such as carving/woodwork, which are still going strong
- Side-of-the-road restaurants and Indo-style food trucks (which are basically souped-up wheelbarrows complete with mini-kitchens and display windows)
- The funny Indonesian obsession with (gross) shredded cheese as an ingredient for classy pastries and desserts
- 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
- Seemingly random Indonesian-Chinese Buddhist shrines, always bright red and gold, seeping fragrant incense into the streets
- Riding on the back of motorcycles
- Driving motorcycles
- 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
- Karaoke machines on buses
- Emotional and over-the-top Indonesian soap operas, known as cinetron
- Indonesian rappers and hip hop artists
- Free range Javanese roosters and chickens, which are tall, slender, multi-colored, and gorgeous
- Velveteen peci hats for men
- Peanut sauce over veggies, grilled chicken skewers, boiled spinach, rice medallions…over anything, really
- Teasing/affection culture (my Raycraft style fits right in)
- Hand-painted signs and advertisements
- Endless and fascinating seeming-contradictions that make Javanese culture ‘work’
- Fresh young coconut drink (es degan)
- Magic and mysticism, traditional healing, the pervasive belief in ghosts and place-spirits, spooky stories, and getting the shivers about all of these things
- 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
— follow me on Instagram @tisamlette —
It has been quite some time since I’ve written anything, and the plain and simple reason is that I’ve been very busy enjoying! About every single day has been jam-packed with something or other–research, volunteering, enjoying life here to the greatest extent possible (i.e. goofing off and enjoying friendships).
As it turns out, the international relations office (IRO) family spends multiple nights a week together after-hours being together and getting up to all sorts of silly and fun activities. Wednesday night is futsal (soccer on a small, indoor field), Friday afternoon is badminton, and we’ve been doing an awful lot of Asian-style karaoke (in individual rooms like in Lost in Translation, not the same as the regular, mortifying karaoke we unfortunate Americans are accustomed to). The part-time IRO staff members, mostly undergrads, also like going out in the evenings to find tasty food and/or go shopping. There have also been some exciting campus events, most notably a Confucius Institute talent show that was really stupendously amazing and surreal in its fantasticality. We’ve had a birthday party and a housewarming celebration, too. So, I’ve been swept up by reading and studying during the day and doing something exciting with friends basically every evening.
I went to the first futsal practice under the horribly misguided impression that at least some of the office girls would at least be there so I that could coax them into playing with me. Indonesian ladies are notoriously uninterested in playing futsal, probably because it is indeed quite rough and there just aren’t opportunities for them to build their interest in it like there are for young men (it’s a combination of structurally unequal opportunity and cultural disinterest in over-exertion and running around in athletic gear with a bunch of men). At the first practice, I was the only lady. I was honestly afraid of getting hurt, so I sat the first practice out, watching from the sidelines. I hadn’t ever played soccer before except once in my neighbor’s front yard up at the lake where my grandparents used to live, and it was nerve-wracking to think about jumping right in.
However, at the second practice, I knew what I was getting into and had time to mentally prepare myself to be the only girl on the pitch (and the worst player by far!!). The guys all knew it was my first time playing; luckily, they only play for fun. They don’t even keep score. Unfortunately, despite bucking up and representing the female sex on the pitch, it wasn’t a great day for breaking down gender-based stereotypes, ‘cuz I was a total wimp out there. I tried my best and at least worked up a sweat running up and down the sidelines, and I did get walloped by the ball pretty good on my arm by a tough and amazing South Korean kid (wah, the bruise lingers yet). I went into momentary shock when the ball hit me, but my Argentinean neighbor/buddy was right next to me and smartly asked me if I wanted to take a break. I think he sensed that I was stunned! Looking back, getting hurt right from the outset was an okay experience; I’m more prepared to keep trying and I know what to expect. It’s not so dire. Futsal is super fun, and everyone I play with is really goofy and laughs a lot the whole time. It’s a great workout, too, of course. It’s so nice to be physically active here in Indonesia, and a welcomed change from Peace Corps rural-village-lady life (I just didn’t get enough exercise back then and I think it contributed to heightened levels of near-depression).
Also very silly at the outset was family karaoke. It’s done here in little rooms that have a display screen, a couple of microphones, and a digital display that let’s participants select songs. Plus snacks. And sweet tea served in “Bintang” beer mugs (Mas M and Mas T just love joking around about drinking beer while karaoke-ing). Everyone sings with reckless abandon, even if their voice is awful by conventional standards. Songs are in Javanese, English, Indonesian—anything you please. Popular hits from the US/Europe include emotional love ballads and emo pop-punk; I sang some Abba songs, a couple of Celine songs, even a Metallica song. Luckily, most of these were duets. I sang the “Cups” song from whatever musical that is during the first visit to family karaoke, and then, the second time, I was requested to sing first and sing that song! I can’t be doing so bad. There’s a lot of silliness, dancing, and hooting and hollering at family karaoke time. Like futsal, it’s completely done for fun, and nobody cares if your voice is abysmal. I never thought I would like karaoke so much, or sing it so energetically. I have done karaoke twice, exactly twice (two songs) in the US, and I hated it. But when you’re in a little room goofing around with your pals, it’s pretty sweet and satisfying. I’ve already been four times or so since I last wrote. Almost weekly!
Another exciting and new regular activity in my life is weekly badminton practice. Who would ever have imagined that my regular activities would be soccer, karaoke, and badminton? As you can probably guess, it doesn’t matter if you are terrible at badminton. It’s better if you’re good (at all of these things), but it’s totally great anyways if you are just purely terrible. The first time I went, I played along, and my right forearm hurt for two days. Did you know that Indonesians are really good at badminton? It’s very easy to over-extend oneself playing badminton with Indonesians. Think of whatever stereotype you have about Chinese ping pong skills; that’s roughly the skill level of Indonesians with badminton. Apparently, they are one of the top two best countries in the world at badminton, although I forget what the other one is at the moment. Anyways, badminton is great, and the ladies do enjoy playing this less intensive, less running-y sport. Mas M’s wife is a stunner and apparently played in college; she beats me every time. The boys are so silly and vicious and often fall down on the floor in fits of contagious laughter when something silly or amazing happens. I’m slowly getting better, too. Last week, the 4th or 5th week attending, the team I was on actually won!! Not really important, but hey. First time for everything.
Oh, last week I scored my first goal at futsal. Actually the first goal in my life! I made four attempts and made one. Mas T was goalkeeping and swears he didn’t let me get away with anything. Also I ended up with two additional bruises, one on my calf and one on my thigh…thankfully, as of now, I have no bruises from badminton or karaoke.
This week, a lovely Puerto Rican lady whose studying Indonesian at UMM (yes, there are technically two Americans on this campus!) introduced me to a ladies-only fitness spot in Malang, which is great news as I had been snooping around for a gym with Mas M, with displeasing results. In keeping with the theme of light fitness for ladies, most gyms are oriented towards male clients, i.e. totally grungy and full of testosterone. Sorry, males. I visited one of these horrid places just to look at it and got quite stared at and felt great discomfort. However, the ladies-only gym has fulfilled all my wildest gym fantasies and more!! They have several classes a day, and I’ve so far been going to the hip hop classes. They are very challenging. There’s no AC or fans, and the classroom is on the second floor. We get really soaking wet with sweat and I look quite silly trying to do hip hop. BUT, who cares, it’s fun! I’m going to attend a yoga class tonight and see how that goes. They’ve also got various other aerobic classes, like zumba and pilates. There is enough exercise equipment (weights, cardio machines) to satisfy me, too. Best part? It’s $9 per month! Love you, Sanggar Senam Inda.
Many evenings, the part-timers will invite me out to find food or coffee around Malang, often to the big enormous mega-malls where things cost a pretty penny (relatively speaking) but are a welcomed escape from regular coffee made at home and rice plus tempe and veggies. We’ve been hopping around from café to café, sometimes working on homework, sometimes doing a little shopping, almost always taking selfies. The part-timers are so sweet, and I get the sense that they don’t enjoy much time with other international people (even though they seem eager to hang with me and so possibly feel interested in developing friendships with other internationals?). The part-timers seem very happy to spend time with me, and I reciprocate for sure. There are always many foreigners coming in and out of IRO, and my sense is that the part-timers rarely make social connections with them, probably or most likely because of language barriers. The international student coordinator is trying to organize a big trip for the foreigners and office staff together in order to build stronger relationships among office staff, and hopefully this can happen! I also hope I get to go to Bromo and/or the beach with the part-timers in the near future, as they’ve suggested we do together.
There are also some part-timers in the American Corner on campus that love goofing off, too. We had a silly Halloween party, which maybe you saw pictures of, and the students made me up as an Indonesian zombie. I had a lot of fun and actually scared a few people. I’m sure I could only ever scare young Indonesians. I’ve never been scary on Halloween in my whole life. Success!
Another item of business that has been keeping me busy lately was my participation in an international seminar on campus this week. It was based on the theme of institutionalizing Indonesian language as an international and academic/scientific language, and there were presenters and guest speakers from all over Indonesia. Although there were some slightly unnerving presentations with undertones deriding local languages and cultures in favor of unification through shared (dominant) language and national identity/culture, I enjoyed participating… what can you do? I posed a few questions to those speakers suggesting, however subtly, that local languages should be slowly colonized by Indonesian and Indonesian should be all citizen’s first language, trying to get someone to articulate the relationship between language loss and devaluation of local cultures…I don’t think my point came across as I had intended, so all I can do is try to be an example by studying the local language here and valuing the culture as well. For better or for worse, a foreigner showing interest and appreciation for local language and culture can go a long way in terms of demonstrating that these things shouldn’t be allowed to disappear or to be subsumed in the name of nationalism. I don’t think local languages and cultures should disappear. I don’t think all Indonesians want this, either…although it is a fact that people from rural areas where local languages are spoken will have a hard time if they go to the city to look for a job and have sub-par Indonesian language skills. I’m getting off track; this seems like a good discussion for a future post.
Anyways, I gave a little talk at the conference about my experiences learning Indonesian as a second language, since I was asked to participate two nights before I needed to make a submission and didn’t have enough time to prepare anything more substantial. I decided after listening to the opening ceremony of the conference that I should deliver my talk in Indonesian to the best of my abilities, even though the facilitators said I could use English if I wanted. But why would I, if the topic is all about building up Indonesian as an international language? I also decided not to prepare my talk beforehand and have an Indonesian friend correct it, because I wanted to demonstrate to the listeners what my real skills were by speaking as naturally and spontaneously as possible, flaws and all. I ended up giving the talk in about 85-90% Indonesian and the rest in English (except 0.5% in Javanese, just to get a few laughs). The lady who presented after me was a master’s degree holding professor of Indonesian who gave a talk about how people should really work hard to speak proper and correct Indonesian in order to fulfill their patriotic and civic duty, and she told me repeatedly that my Indonesian was very good (and she’d probably harass an Indonesian who spoke Indonesian at my ability level). So, I count this as a victory, even though I’m sure I made some mistakes and my face was as red as a tomato the whole time.
Let’s see… the last thing I want to update about is my research. I have been reading a lot a lot a lot, mostly working to wrap my head as much as possible around what I’ve been hearing. I have had a couple more interviews since I last blogged, as well, and these have been just as interesting as the previous set. I still need at least two more proper participants and then I will be ready to start preparing for whatever follow-up interviews need to happen. I’ve started looking for transcribers and translators for the next phase of the project, but have had minimal success with the initial candidates. I’m going to consult with the “International Language Fellows” group on campus, which is made up of about 700 well-rounded, academically talented undergraduate students; one of my new pals, Lia, is the treasurer of this group, so she is going to help me recruit people who are interested in transcribing and translating the interviews for me. Delegate, delegate! I simply cannot do the transcriptions, since more than half of the material is in Javanese, which I cannot spell (and I can’t always decipher the individual words, anyways). I really hope the ILF group comes through!!
Other news: I’m happy to share that I’ll be presenting on my project in late March in Macau, which is a Special Autonomous Region (SAR) of China. The conference is run by Danish scholars and the theme is, roughly, folklore and the supernatural in island nations. I’m super excited and looking forward to travelling around Macau, which, if you don’t know anything about, you should explore. The Anthony Bourdain episode on Macau is a good place to start (it’s on YouTube). I had no idea how weird and unique Macau is, and I find it fitting that I’ll be ending up in such a strange and quirky place for my first presentation about this strange and quirky research project.
I think that’s about it for now; I promise to update more regularly from now on! I have been letting myself get lost in the activities of daily life here, and I think it’s wise to step back and process a little more thoroughly (lest I “go native,” which I sometimes feel I’ve already done based on what some of the newcomer foreigners have said to me about myself, my behavior, etc). I’ve got more to share: I’ve been doing some guest lecturing at middle schools and at the university, visiting Tlekung and having fun times with the host family, and planning my trips to Magetan and Jogjakarta in a couple of weeks. I’ve also been scaring myself with ghost stories and killing mosquitoes like that’s what my Fulbright is really all about. Also, I have a little ‘potted’ plant garden, two new roommates, some stories of visiting friends’ homes, and some negativity (yes, it exists) I want to get off my chest… alas, fodder for another day, my loves.
Best, biggest cinta forever,
PS: I officially expressed my intention to Indiana University to pursue doctorate studies there next fall, pending funding/assistantship, of course. If I am funded, Lauren and I will be giving it a try in Bloomington next August!
— follow me on Instagram @tisamlette —
13 September 2014
Of course, shenanigans ensued immediately upon arrival in Malang. I was picked up at the airport by my friend, who helped Peace Corps as a language and culture facilitator and also presently works at the international relations office at my affiliate university. He texted me to let me know he was at the airport: I’m standing right behind you. And he was! Had a nice lunch and chatted before heading to campus to stop by the office; ran into the host sister of a fellow now-RPCV and hitched a ride to her village, near mine, to see her extended family and meet her new baby (whose new nickname is now Baggage since his name is one letter shy of that word in Indonesian). The baby liked me! Normally, Indo babies get fairly spooked by my pale face, but Baggage and I goofed around for quite some time before heading to my village. So far, everyone that I’ve met up with that I knew from before has been super gracious and excited to see me. This definitely feels like a homecoming, in a great way!
I didn’t even recognize my host parents’ place when we pulled up. The whole house has changed, and a new, blue, two-story house has been built right behind the old house (which is now being rented out). Bapak and Sinta were home, and again it barely felt like I had been gone at all. The major change in the family besides the new house is that Sinta is two years older, now 20, and that much more confident, ebullient, and, well, grown up. Ibu was at a selametan for the one-year anniversary of Bapak’s kakak’s passing, and she didn’t come home until quite late. She received a good long squeeze upon arrival.
So far, chatting with Bapak and Ibu about my upcoming project has been quite titillating. They are both so intelligent and well-spoken; Ibu in particular has a way of making things really clear for me (because, after all, my language skills aren’t as great as I’d like them to be). The best part of the conversation was when I asked Bapak, an architect and contractor, whether he had ever been to see a dukun (shaman) and he said no, but I’m a shaman myself. I said, oh? Really? He said yep— a dukun pembangunan, a building-shaman. He also informed me that he’s been to a female shaman— Ibu, ‘cuz she takes care of everything. Earlier today, Ibu and I were discussing shamanism around Indonesia, and she had an interesting story about magic on Kalimantan: Javanese men who go to work on Kalimantan often get hypnotized by women there, and when they come back to Java, their privates disappear (and thus cannot be used in the marital bed). When they go back to Kalimantan, poof! They reappear, and the man is lured into marriage on Kalimantan, leaving his Javanese wife behind. Who’d want to return to Java, wife or no, under that sort of spell?
I can start searching for participants as soon as my KITAS comes through, which should be next Thursday. My friend from the international relations office helped with that process, too, and also helped me start searching for a place to live. It was suggested to him that I live in a house owned by the university, and luckily there is a spare room. Even luckier, I can live there rent-free, at least for this semester. Apparently the university owns a couple of guest houses—one for males and one for females—that international/visiting lecturers can use during their time here. I don’t count as a visiting lecturer, so I don’t have priority, but enough of the lecturers here this semester have found alternative housing for themselves.
Admittedly, the facilities are lacking slightly: no A/C (though it’s cool enough that I think a fan will be enough), no real sink for washing dishes (though apparently most housing around here doesn’t have complete kitchens as food on the street is so cheap and plentiful), Western-style toilets instead of squatties (which would be ideal except that in Indonesia, Western-style toilets are often wet all over due to splashing from manual flushing), and three twin-beds in my room (since the house is really a 10-person house, though the 4 rooms and status as international housing means it functions as a 4-person house). However, can’t beat the price, and I think I’ll just tilt the extra beds up against the wall, get a blender and an electric kettle for coffee and smoothies in the morning, wash dishes in the tiny little hand-washing sink, and cope with the toilets. The positives: hot water for showering, a nice living room with a big coffee table for studying/working, an interesting and nice housemate, a couple young guys who come daily to sweep and tidy up, an Indomart convenience store and laundry toko just around the corner, and just a five minute walk to campus. I will be sharing with a nice Uzbekistani lady who’s teaching English this semester. She’s part of a little expat group of lecturers from all over the world: Libya, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Venezuela, France, etc. etc.! I haven’t met them all yet, but they warmly welcomed me yesterday into their little circle.
My plan at this time is to stay in the guest house Monday through Friday and go home with my host sister on (most) weekends to Bapak and Ibu’s house. She’s studying for her bachelor’s at the university and commutes daily, so I’ll be able to see her now and then during the week, perhaps for lunch or coffee!! (Went back to the much-beloved coffee joint in front of campus and had a delicious $0.75 iced espresso yesterday.) Not to my great surprise, Bapak and Ibu were very gracious and offered that I stay with them instead of paying for a place on my own in Malang, which is noisy and dirty, they say. I think a good compromise is splitting up the time. I love staying with them, and frankly I still have a lot to learn about Javanese language and culture; they have always been some of my best teachers. Lately, great conversations have been about: dukun, as mentioned; the recent Indonesian presidential election; cross-cultural co-habitation and its many challenges; family updates, including a couple of untimely deaths of middle-aged relatives on their end and updates about my family (that photo album was much enjoyed by all, Lauren!) and storytelling about my grandmother’s recent passing; village gossip, changes, and news; and what we’ve all been up to, in general, over the past two years, including Sinta’s somewhat negative experiences as a university student (she’s finding it hard to make friends since she is the only person in her cohort who commutes daily).
I think that’s all from me for now; the rest of the weekend, I’ll mampir to the other host families to catch up and say hello, head to the shopping center to get a few things for my new place, and hang with the family some more. I’m especially enjoying Sinta’s newfound enthusiasm for practicing her English, sitting in the kitchen in the morning with Ibu sipping coffee while she cooks and chats, and Bapak’s clear excitement that I’m visiting again. I also feel especially relaxed and enthused because of my smartphone and data plan; keeping in touch with important folks in the States is much easier this time around. Actually, since I knew what to expect this time around, everything so far as been much easier. I’m sure I’m still honeymooning, but I can’t imagine the coming weeks will be any less exciting since I get to start my research project. From my current vantage point, it seems that the most difficult thing about the Fulbright year so far is getting over my anxiety about the big shift back into this Indo life, and now that I’m here, I can finally relax about it all. I don’t doubt there will be big challenges in the future, but I know I’ve got a great support network (here and at home), a great internet connection, and a great deal more language, cultural, and self knowledge than I did four and a half years ago.