Tag Archives: friends

Bromo Redux

Long time, no blog! I think I need to face the reality that my blog is now purely a travel blog…

This past week, I visited Bromo for the second time! I went a little over a year ago but didn’t bring my own camera or travel with anyone I knew. This time, I went with baby sis, Miss V, and Miss C (a PCV serving in the Malang Regency). We brought cameras.

If you’d like to refresh your memory of where/what Bromo is, exactly, feel free to read the intro to my first Bromo post. Basically, it’s a national park featuring several mountains and one very active volcano. One rents a jeep and driver and is driven around the park (the main stop is hiking up to see the crater). The park is east of where I live. It is magical; mountaintops at dawn are just magical, and being up so high in the clouds is magical. Stars are magical. Anyway, pictures speak louder than words, and I’m about to fall asleep.

Enjoy!

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Mental/Emotional Blocks: Stress, Fear, the Undead, etc.

Make it through the mess that is the first half of this post and there’ll be a reward in the second half, I promise: pearls of wisdom from a survivor of the zombie apocalypse (ahem, me).

Here we go. For those of you who were born yesterday, allow me to start with a fun fact: I’m an expert at stressing myself out. I’m a professional, in fact. I work myself into fits by thinking about things obsessively, worrying about aspects of the future that aren’t really that pressing (even when they become the present), and failing miserably to find time and mental space for relaxation. Admittedly, this is unhealthy and neither necessary nor productive, which is unfortunate considering how good I am at it.

Over the past few months, this anxiety has been nearly crippling, and for the first time in my life it has actually done more harm than good; it’s been hard to channel the stress and pressure into productivity as I do in my usual routine. Normally, if the stress ends up making me do my work, I don’t conceptualize it as a problem. Now, the stress is preventing me from working, so I have started to beat myself up and make it worse—now, the stress is a problem. But that doesn’t actually make sense, does it?

It should be that I try to do something about unnecessary and unhealthy levels of stress regardless of whether I can logic them away by saying, oh, well at least I got my tasks done. It shouldn’t be the case that our culture or my own brain values the outcome or the product of my work to such an extent that the process by which it was achieved is basically irrelevant or of no concern. This is because it’s in those processes that our daily realities are experienced; life is lived from moment to moment, not from product to product or outcome to outcome.

Time and again my shortcomings prove to me how immature I am and probably always will be; no matter how many times I tell myself the simple facts of life—especially that it’s about the journey, not the destination (cheesy, I know, but we both know it’s true)—or recognize myself treating my friends with much better love, care, and compassion than I do my own self, I can’t seem to get any of it through my own thick head.

It’s conventional wisdom that failure brings us closer to full self-knowledge: of our limits, our emotional resilience, our mental fortitude. This post is going to be about failure, although I don’t think I’ve failed at anything, really. Maybe I have. I suppose at the present don’t feel like a failure, but I don’t feel like a success. I feel like I’ve made some important choices and that I’m going through a transition in my life, and I have an inkling that I’m going to be stronger when I come out on the other side. I feel like I do a lot of harmful things to myself in my own head, and perhaps I’m starting to go through the (painful) process of stopping some of these negative behaviors; perhaps I’m starting to change, perhaps I need to take a few steps backward to go forward.

But we’re never not broken; I’m not fooling myself that something called “progress” is going to lead to an outcome (of perfect health, a “new” self, spiritual and intellectual perfection or perfection of any kind…), because I’m not a product I need to produce. Maybe it’s cheesy again, but I think it’s better to conceptualize myself as a project and try to enjoy “working” on it for its own sake, not for the sake of the outcome or some future self that can never be.

I think my primary failure in life so far has been focusing too heavily on outcomes, products, scores, results, and the indulgent pleasure of holding out for that climactic moment of outward success and external validation.

It seems cheesy (again) to me, too, to consider the work I’ve been doing over the past two years with healers in Indiana and East Java as part of a process of my own journey towards healing. But I need to ask myself why do I find it so cheesy? Perhaps because I’m supposed to be a serious academic and approach the work as objectively as possible. I’m not supposed to be emotional, overly sensitive, weepy, feminine, weak, wrong, hurt. I should be doing the research because it’s objectively interesting—the justification of my studies isn’t supposed to be well, I subconsciously need my own healing and won’t let myself have it, so I’m doing this project to get myself closer to what I need so that maybe one day I’ll wake up and realize what’s really going on. I’m not supposed to need healing of any kind at all (per my own standards; it’s others who need that).

I’ve spent so much time investing in the tangible outcomes of the work I do in my outer life rather than on my own inner life that any spiritual/emotional work that I may need to do or try to do is irrelevant; the focus of life has been outcomes and measurable successes, not inner peace, which can’t be put on display to be given external validation. So…why all this?

It seems I can’t accept my own praise for anything. It’s not good enough if it’s only me who thinks it’s good. And what does that say about how I value myself? How I value my own opinion and trust myself? Nothing good, that’s for sure.

So, admitting we’re flawed and wounded and need help isn’t easy. I’ve never been one to deny that I’m flawed, but I’ve made it my prerogative to admit stuff without really admitting anything. For example, yeah, I make myself stressed and work myself into fits of anxiety for no reason. I need to work on it. I’m doing X, Y, and Z to help—knitting more, paying attention to self-care and giving myself indulgences, making time to do things outdoors. But…it’s just part of the game!! Showing other people that I’m so self-aware, so good at taking care of myself, so in tune with what’s up with me and what I need to do to cope with it if not make it all better. This means I can avoid doing the real work I probably need to do. All I do now is work hard to convince myself that I’m working hard and to convince myself that validation outside of me is going to be enough.

I think I need to learn to be truthful and stop being so unforgiving with myself; just because I think that other people have it more together than me doesn’t mean I’m the failure I think I am. And hey, having it together isn’t a thing anyways, is it? It’s okay to not be okay. Again, conventional wisdom, right? But I don’t allow myself the luxury of letting these simple things be true for me and my own life. The standards I have for myself (which of course I can never reach, because there’s never actually nor will there ever be an end point) don’t allow it. Again, why?

There are a lot of things I want to keep thinking and writing about related to all of these issues, but I don’t think I have time to explore them here and now, so let me get on with the important stuff.

Have you ever heard of the computer game “Plants vs. Zombies”? I played for the first time with Miss V the other night. Well, last night, actually, after I almost had a stupid breakdown about people looking out for me and trying to prevent me from having my wallet stolen (I interpreted their admonitions as overly controlling and invasive rather than loving and caring) and lost all motivation to do my hip hop class, promptly sending myself into a stressed-out-grumpy-funk. I went to the coffee shop with V to calm down and asked her if we could play some computer games. I played Minesweeper, Hearts, Mahjong—all these old classic Windows games. It felt great. I just love Minesweeper. But V finally got bored (she’s a gamer and has more refined game tastes than yours truly) and suggested we play Plants vs. Zombies to liven things up. Apparently the game is a hip thing; she was surprised I hadn’t ever heard of it since all the American Peace Corps trainees she worked with had.

We started to play. The purpose of the game is to ward off the zombies that are trying to attack your house. You do this by planting killer plants throughout the front yard to defend your homestead from the onslaught. You can choose sunflowers that grow money in the form of sunbeams, green flowers that shoot deadly peas, potatoes that explode, cherries that also explode, mushrooms that poof out deadly spores, and blue flowers that spit iceballs to slow down the zombies via partial freezing. You have to collect sunpower to “buy” these plants, and each plant that you get needs to be placed strategically in the yard so that it most effectively contributes to the pea-iceball-deadly-spore-exploding-potato-cherry zombie defensive. As she demonstrated for me how the game worked, Miss V was very diligent in placing her plants in a lovely order. Her garden-cum-yard was highly aesthetically pleasing to her—“indah,” she said. “Beautiful.” It was my turn next.

Admittedly, it was my first time, and I got excited. I was zealous. The zombies kept coming, and I hurriedly bought as many plants as possible, putting them down any which way and hoping for the best, sticking them in the dirt as fast as I could so I could get more. Of course, slapping killer plants all over every inch of the yard is effective, and the zombies were annihilated. But my garden lacked an aesthetic element.

“You’ve been so stressed lately. You’re stressed out even playing this game. Why can’t you make it beautiful?” Miss V was not pleased at my performance. I played a couple more times, continuing stubbornly to do what I wanted: just make it effective enough to pass the level. Didn’t matter about the process or how the garden looked.

The funny thing is that planting things nicely and planting things crappily take the same amount of time and ultimately result in the same efficiency re: zombie destruction, especially in the earlier stages of the game. So why wouldn’t I just take the time to plant the garden nicely? Why couldn’t I enjoy the process of choosing where to put the plants, what patterns to create, and putting a little effort into the beauty of the yard?

All of a sudden I felt very embarrassed at my behavior. I felt really wrong and really immature—and not for the reasons one would expect to feel immature when playing a plants vs. zombies computer game.

Finally, I decided to plant the garden nicely. At first—and I think now that this was wrong—it was to get praise from Miss V for following her advice. I like to make her happy and show her that I listen to and trust her. After I started and got a few “Good jobs, that’s the way to do it, that looks nice,” from Miss V, I felt better. I thought, well, now she knows I can do it. I thought, hey, she’s an expert in the game, and it’s good of me to take her advice…even though it doesn’t make a difference.

After a couple of rounds, I started to get pleasure from organizing the garden with aesthetic value in mind. I wasn’t focused on the zombies anymore like I was before—I wasn’t really worried about them at all. I was focusing instead on the patterns in the plants, the balance and symmetry of various rows and columns, and the patterns in the flying iceballs, peas, and poofs of spores I could create on the screen by strategically placing the deadly plants. Oddly enough, it became a meditation.*

I had to reflect on the change in my own mental state after I started planting with beauty in mind: I was significantly more relaxed—inwardly and outwardly—as soon as I started paying more attention to how I was doing what I was doing (rather than why I was doing it, i.e. for zombie killin’). Planting frantically and grabbing whatever I could and sticking it wherever in the yard I saw the first free spot made me feel like the zombies were coming faster, though that definitely wasn’t true. The strategy I was choosing to use created more stress for myself and didn’t change the outcome in the slightest; we still won the round, but we didn’t have the satisfaction of a beautiful lawn or a leisurely landscaping process. We won the rounds even if I planted crappily, but we felt frantic during the process (I was freaking out about getting things in place, and Miss V was going nuts at my haphazardness and carelessness). It wasn’t as much of a win as when we achieved the same outcome using a more thoughtful process with a more enjoyable approach.

So, I didn’t fail at the zombie game. And not failing meant paying attention to the journey, not the destination.

Isn’t it always just stupid shit that illuminates essential truths about life? And yet I still can’t get it sometimes. But that’s okay.

I wanted this post to be about failures, and I don’t feel I’ve yet expressed all I want to express. I also wanted to talk more about fear. But there’s more time later; this post is long enough. For now, badminton practice. Conventional wisdom strikes again: make a hobby of something you suck at to gain humility and perspective.

Sincerely,
Sam

*Maybe this is a stretch, but now as I write I’m reminded of zen gardening (karesansui).

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.

Love,
Sammy

Play for fun

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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,
Sammy

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 —

Trusting Indonesia

I have been thinking a lot this week about how much I trust and indeed need to trust in order to integrate into this new setting and context to begin tackling the project I’ve set up for myself here. Life in Malang is, in fact, quite new and different compared to life in East Java as a Peace Corps Volunteer, most obviously because I am living in a trendy college town and relying primarily on myself to meet my own basic needs. The differences between the PCV life and the Fulbrighter/Malang life are many: I haven’t got a lovely host mom cooking for me, I don’t have a safety and security officer or Western-standard general physician a phone call away, and I’m no longer part of a 20-person strong, tightly-knit family of Americans experiencing basically the same thing as I am. However, the newness of this life is teaching me a great deal already.

Friends. First and foremost, I trust and rely on my friends no matter where I am in the world, and I’m learning to appreciate and value my Indonesian friends in new ways. My longtime friends here have already become substantially more involved in my life than they were during Peace Corps, most likely because I have been pestering them for assistance, advice, and companionship much more ardently than I was four years ago. I am lucky to have an established network here, and the feeling of being accepted and welcomed back into the fold is really incredible.

In my experience here, friendship is highly regarded, thus friends are highly reliable and friendship is true, by my own standards. I don’t get the impression that me being a Westerner or an American makes too much of a difference on Indonesians’ ability to befriend and care for me, even if it does make a difference in initial attraction. People here seem to value their friends and friendships to a very high degree, often willing to drop anything and everything if a friend is in need or wants to spontaneously meet up or drop by. I have many other non-Javanese/non-Indonesian friends who behave similarly, and perhaps it is so striking to me now because I feel like the rate at which friendship here ascends from acquaintanceship to something much closer is steeper than I’ve experienced with American friends.

Maybe this is merely my perception and maybe my foreigner status has a stronger influence than I perceive (or am willing to perceive). Maybe this is because cross-cultural friendships can often be more challenging and therefore more intense—as problems/conflicts are met and worked out together—than friendships between friends of similar culture. It could be that I’m in an emotionally and mentally intense place and am therefore experiencing things more intensely (although I don’t think this is the case). Maybe they feel less close to me than I do to them and I’m culturally mistranslating, but the serious content of some of our conversations indicate to me that this may not be the case. Whatever the reason I have been so quickly assimilated into a network of Indonesian buddies, I am grateful.

Being able to trust a good number of people so quickly is a gift. I’m sure my dear professor in the States would remind me that no gift is ever free: there’s always something to be reciprocated. In this case, I hope that’s friendship, too, as well as cross-cultural engagement and sharing. That’s what I’m interested in, really, from all friends—even those who come from a similar background, since culture varies on all levels, right down to the personal (intimate) and spiritual. Every friendship has its own little culture, and can’t personality and values be interpreted as individual culture?

Here, I have to trust my own attitudes and suppositions towards my friendships as well as the instincts and open-heartedness of my non-American friends to be able to bridge communication and cultural barriers and be willing to face any challenges that may arise. I feel that I can trust my friends—and myself—not to run away or bury negative feelings if problems do arise or cultural missteps occur. Through my friends I have a little web of emotional safety, and I trust that it won’t dissipate and that it will help me sustain my energy and spirit while I’m here. I also trust that I can provide strong and positive friendship to others, even if I make some mistakes along the way.

In Peace Corps days, my emotional network was primarily other American Volunteers. But having the cultural knowledge and linguistic skill—and open-heartedness—to shift from an American support network to an Indonesian support network is a good thing. This week, I have been thinking a lot about what “crutches” I used while I was a PCV here. Without a doubt, I watched too much American/Western TV and movies on my computer, even though at the time I felt this was necessary to get into beta-mode in order to reenergize for the next day. Here and now, I have much more reenergizing private time and space, but I am also trying consciously to find energy in Indonesian friends. When I need to zone out, I try books and other reading material rather than TV/movies. I don’t want to denigrate others’ choices—I want to speak for myself: for me, drawing energy from and sharing my energy with Indonesian friends is a big achievement. I have my smartphone and internet connection as an outlet and can text my American friends at any moment, but I can’t deny how please I feel with being able to hang out with Indonesian friends without wishing to just go home and be alone in my room with my TV or go to Surabaya to hang with the other PCVs and eat/drink out feelings. I know it’s a totally different life now and I might not need the same sort of reenergizing as I did before—I am generally less exhausted and stressed now than when I was a PCV—but I have to give credit where credit is due and be honest about how proud I am that I have found a way to “make it work” better: I am a better self for the work I need to do here, and I wish I had had the ability and fortitude to achieve my present attitude when I was completing my service… but it’s all the same journey, really.

I could go on and on about the reasons I think this present mental state is possible—many of my Indonesian friends in Malang are more cosmopolitan and comfortable interacting with and building friendships with foreign people than my friends in rural western East Java, I am more in control about when, how, and with whom I react on a daily basis, and I have a greater amount of cross-cultural friendship experience than I did two years ago, to posit a few theories—but for now I’ll just leave it at this: I can trust that if I feel burnt out, even culturally, the friendships and family I have in my life at the present moment transcend. I have been able recharge with Indonesian friends and believe I can continue to rely on them even in the event of cultural burn-out. In my present mental framework, this is radically different from my PC reality. It’s refreshing and actually quite revolutionary.

Colleagues. I have an Indonesian advisor—as I mentioned in a previous entry—and I am learning to trust my own ignorance of my subject matter and put my ‘faith’ in his knowledge. Pak H is somewhere between advisor and gatekeeper, as he is an herbal medicine practitioner himself and well-connected to the healing community in his home regency in the east as well as here in Malang. I need to suspend my recently realized Western academic superiority complex (I figure it as academic racism) and understand that the academic work being done here, while differently rigorous, is absolutely, positively worth paying attention to and learning from. I think I can learn more from Pak H than I can by reading articles from Western journals that I locate and pore over independently. I never suspected there would be a professor here like him; I remember four years ago thinking he was over-the-top and too intense. But I am humbled here, once again, even more so than by the chicken foot I finally broke down and ate the other week: Pak H is genial, intelligent, articulate, and really much more of an expert than I ever knew to give him credit for.

With Pak H, I am re-learning how to say yes. Yes, I’ll come with you to see a potential participant even if I’m not quite sure where we’re going or what type of person I’m going to meet. Yes, I will receive traditional treatments that I don’t understand and don’t necessarily believe, if you think I should try it. Yes, I will travel with you to your home regency next month and have my fortune told by a “white witch” (for lack of a better translation) and see an old spinster do a sacred dance to cleanse the village of evil spirits. Yes, please crowdsource potential recruits for me through your Facecbook page and spread my research proposal far and wide. Yes, please teach me high Javanese, and yes, I’ll read these Indonesian-language books if you think they’ll do me good. Re: Eep!—Yes, I will get on your motorcycle and go somewhere to see someone who is going to do something magical/mystical to me so I can have some firsthand experience of Islamic faith healing.

I trust Pak H, and I realize the need to defer to his better judgment since I have realized, in a couple short weeks and a few short conversations with various friends and colleagues, the complete and utter lack of nuance to my meager understanding of Javanese spiritual and religious culture (and generic culture, which tends to be viewed as separate from religion here, as far as I can surmise, and both are again separate from tradition and modernity…even though they all coalesce and I’d be hard-pressed to find someone Javanese who viewed these various aspects of their lives and identities as discreet from the next). I trust in my trust of him, too; I know that if I stick with him, I’ll learn much more than if I had stubbornly and stupidly tried to do this project without him.

Strangers. I have been learning to motorcycle, which has proven both extremely easy and extremely challenging, probably for obvious reasons. It is easier to do than riding a bike and takes only two or three days to get the hang of. However, the traffic here is as close to embodied anarchy as anything I have ever seen firsthand (except perhaps the town center Amritsar in Punjab, India, in front of the Golden Temple). The person who taught me to motor said I should faithfully rely on the drivers behind me, as they are looking forward and paying attention to the movements of the motors ahead of them. She stressed the fact that Indonesian drivers are very aware of their surroundings, good at judging distance and spatial relation (depth perception here is particularly important), and conscientious and patient on the roads. I need to pay attention to what’s going on in front of me, therefore, and trusting that others behind me are doing the same thing is a big step. I still check my blind spots and side/rearview mirrors obsessively, but I’m learning to relax and go with the flow of traffic. I stay to the side, puttering along slowly, also trusting that the other drivers’ recognition of my foreignness gives them a little forgiveness in their hearts for my grandmotherly style.

I also, of course, need to trust my own judgment that checking blind spots and mirrors is still a necessity even if those behind me are paying attention to what I’m doing. I also listen to my body and tell it to relax and trust itself: loosen the shoulders and neck, don’t grip so tightly—being aware and present doesn’t mean being tense and anxious. I feel safer on the road on a motorbike than on my feet and decidedly less frantic than when I am on a standard bicycle, and deciding to learn was undoubtedly a good choice. There isn’t much traffic around campus, and I am learning to go on the main roads little by little. It’s scary, but only because it’s unfamiliar. Luckily I’m scared shitless: I think this will help me stay safe on the road (as it has in the United States). Knock on wood, wear my talisman.

Self. I am growing to trust my ability and skills more and more as each week passes. I trust that I can do this project and achieve a good outcome that will be useful and interesting to others. I am also growing ever more confident in my language skills, even my high Javanese or at least my willingness to practice and keep trying. I trust that I am brave enough to try to do or learn something, even if it ends in failure, because trying and failing isn’t a failure.

I have to trust myself, in fact, or I won’t get anything done. Like I said above, although arguably I relied too heavily on support from American friends during Peace Corps—this may have been a barrier to crossing the threshold of real immersion into sustaining, real friendships and relationships with Indonesians—I miss having them here terribly, because I could trust the group so much (and therefore needed less trust in myself, which fed into my confidence issues perfectly). They were always able to keep me in check in terms of maintaining civility and respect in times of dire frustrating, anger, and anxiety. They always supported me if I made a final decision about my living situation or needed to take a break from site and drink an entire bottle of wine. They proved a sounding board for ideas and approaches to meeting goals and helping students. They encouraged me to push myself harder while doing what I needed to do to stay somewhat sane. We often moved from place to place in a group, meaning that more often than not I could rely on someone else to figure out logistics, answer strangers’ questions, call a taxi, hail a public transport van, re-orient us if we were lost, or choose a new restaurant to try. Now, I’m relying nearly 100% on myself, which is a new and empowering situation.

So, small victories mean a lot and boost my confidence and self-trust: yesterday I motored myself to the shopping center with directions from a friend in the office and assistance from my phone’s GPS system; if I had gotten lost, I would have been responsible for finding someone and asking for directions. I would have had to spend the metal energy trying to understand and trying to find my way back to the path. I can’t defer to the luxury of others’ initiative-taking—as I used to do on occasion since the group meant that individuals could rotate and take turns being the leader—since I’m just me. But the advantage to this is realize that I can do it all myself, when necessary. I knew in my heart that I could, but having the experience firsthand is affirming. Maybe SK was right: now that I received the award and am doing this, there’s no excuse for a lack of self-confidence.

Hopefully, I grow to trust even more in my intellectual abilities as I do this project and work towards creating something in the end that is satisfying to myself. I have a lot of trust for Indonesia, and it’d be nice to come out at the end with even more trust for and in myself.

Always a work in progress, huh?

–   follow me on Instagram @tisamlette   –

Under the spell!

I conducted a pilot interview this weekend!! It was with a dukun bayi or children’s healer (and massage/bathing specialist) in my village, and I think it went as well as could be expected for a trial run! I was lucky enough to have my host mother accompany me as language guru; the interviewee spoke about as much Indonesian as I do, and, of course, my Javanese is only so-so. But the interview was very successful, in my opinion, although I definitely have questions to re-work (and add). I measured the success by the total confusion and amazement I felt at the end; I’ve got a lot to learn, and it’s going to be fascinating. Without going into too much detail, the most interesting part of her story, for me, was that she had no formal training. None! She realized later in life and through a premonitory dream that she had the ability to heal children’s illness, and the whole venture into healing started with her own grandchild, whom she healed with intuitive massage after the doctors tried and failed to help him. A devout Muslim, she believes that her ability is a gift from Allah and that she should use it to help any and all children in need of care.

This story contrasts sharply with the interviews I conducted in the US, and since I’m thinking that this project will end up being a comparative analysis of the two types of healers’ experiences (i.e., Javanese and Anglo-American), the potential seems great already for some interesting and provocative results! Plus, on a personal level, I feel humbled and even more open to the learning process inherent in doing this type of cross-cultural “fieldwork.” I am a lucky lady.

Serendipitously, I have connected with an anthropologist here at UMM whose research interests overlap quite harmoniously with mine. He is Pak H, and I think I mentioned him in my previous entry. He’s someone I know from my Peace Corps days and was a Fulbrighter, too (University of Michigan, late 1980’s). We had lunch together yesterday; he seems quite excited about my project and very interested in helping me travel around to certain places to explore the world of traditional healing here. He’ll be sharing resources, too, and I plan to pick up a couple of books from him later today. We’ve already got two trips scheduled for October to a regency in East Java that’s famous for dukun, and apparently Pak H is already very well-connected to the healing community there since it’s also, !!!, where he’s from. He’s already mentioned my project to several of his connections, who have expressed interest in being interviewed. I could tell from just walking around campus with him that he is very well-connected and respected around here. Pak H says that ten months is more than enough time to accomplish the goals I’ve set out in my research proposal and that with his help, finding interesting and available participants will not be an obstacle. I suppose this makes him, at this point, my primary gatekeeper. How fortunate that he is also an expert in the field.

I can’t believe how things are falling into place! Again, I know there will be challenges, but so far… I’m not sure what I was worrying about all summer when I was making myself frantic with nerves and anxiety about whether I could do this. My friends and colleagues here are so aware of what kind of help I need, and they are more than gracious in extending their assistance wherever possible. I hope I can find a way to do my part for them; I am picking up on the concept of gotong royong (mutual cooperation), a very fundamental aspect of traditional Javanese culture that still thrives today, even in bigger, “modern” cities like Malang. I will have to take care to reciprocate all of the assistance I’ve been granted.

Overall, I’ve been very lucky so far in finding just the perfect people to help me adjust to being back in East Java. Several people, expats and locals alike, have been very gracious and open to assisting me, every bit as much as enthusiastically as Pak H. With the help of a lovely lady from Poland and Mas T, I’ve gotten hooked up with some good transportation and know-how. Thanks to my host family in the village, I feel secure and safe (host dad checked out my homestay and always provides advice on travel, social interaction, and financial issues). The Peace Corps safety and security officer in Surabaya has offered to help me hand-deliver some documents next week to the provincial authorities about my research, per instructions from the federal office to which I report. My new housemate has been so gracious in sharing her delicious foodstuffs, all of which she makes up off the top of her head like a true chef! And, of course, my new and old Indonesian friends have been so open to hanging out, making me feel right at home. My delightful new/old friend, Mas M, is being very diligent in helping/forcing me to practice my Javanese daily, and I love him for it! (He jokes that the reason I like him so much is because I ate an orange that he had had bewitched by a dukun with the express purpose of getting me to like him. But I just think he’s charming; anybody would like him. But then again I do feel I am under some kind of spell here…)

And, importantly, I finally connected with the American Corner here on campus, and reunited with Mas H, whom I last saw in DC a couple of months ago. Later in the semester, we’re going to collaborate on some projects for UMM students. Excitingly, I’ve been granted access to his wide library of English-language reading materials. (No more worrying about forcing Mom, Caitlin, and Lauren to send pleasure reading! Although by all means, please send anything you think I’d be interested in. Ha!) I checked out a Steinbeck novel yesterday, and it feels so good.

That’s all from me for now!
xo
Sammy

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Please follow me on Instagram @tisamlette if you are interested in seeing photos! I will post some here from time to time, I’m sure, but so far I have been posting mainly to Instagram…

A few more updates…

A few exciting updates! I have moved into my cute new (albeit ant-filled) abode; my housemate, M, made a lovely pumpkin and potato dish for me as a little welcome-to-the-house dinner. She is totally wonderful! We have both experienced living in Javanese villages before and both have experience teaching English here, so we have a lot in common already, even though we are from two very different countries/cultures. I love being able to share a space with someone also experiencing expat life in Malang. I feel completely comfortable and at ease; I could get used to this…especially to the fact that I don’t have to do any cleaning besides my own dishes. Thank you, housecleaning boys! What a fortuitous outcome of the house-hunting (which lasted approximately one hour)! AND, we got wifi in the house today!!!

There is a rather extensive expat network here in Malang, and they have been so far quite welcoming. I like the fact that I will spend some time in my village each weekend (or most weekends, anyway) so I don’t feel like I’m getting too sucked in to the expat world. It’s not a bad place—decidedly not—but I do want to maintain my connections with my host family and the ‘real world.’ So far, my new friend J, from Poland, has been most supportive and helpful. She has given me a few tips about Malang already, which are handy since I haven’t actually lived here before: good shops for Western-style bread and cheese, a top-notch fitness center (where she, as a lady, feels comfortable working out), and ideas about transportation. We had a lovely time at the café today chatting it up and getting to know one another. There’s a gathering on Friday that I think I’ll attend so I can meet the rest of her crew.

The visa process is slowly but surely coming along. I should be able to pick up the documents on Friday, which means I can officially start collecting data. Our trip to the immigration office was something else; Mas T picked me up with Mbak R, a Thai student also applying for a visa, at 9:30 instead of 9 since he was waiting on the car to arrive, and the car wouldn’t start when we got in to leave. Someone walked over from campus to help fix it, and after we stopped at the ATM to get money for the visa fee, the car broke down again. Another friend came to help, and we made it to immigration, finally. On the way back to drop said friend off at his job, the car broke down again. A bunch of guys worked on it for a while, and Mas T drove Mbak R back to campus on a borrowed motorcycle, since she had to teach a class (but she didn’t make it; her students had already left by the time she got back to campus). Finally it started, and Mas T and I headed back, stopping for some really excellent nasi pecel on the way back. Got back to the office at 1:30 or so, and, perfectly, the internet on campus was down. Thus, I went ended up at the café with J, as mentioned. Too much!! But I do just love Mas T for all the hard work he does around campus. He is a great friend, too. (Actually, everyone I’ve met/re-met in the office is completely wonderful. Mbak E is just a goofball and a total pleasure to be around, Mas M works hard to get me to practice my Javanese, and Mbaks O and K seem like really nice ladies who will hopefully become my good friends.)

On the research front, there have also been some interesting developments. By way of the professor who sponsored me, Pak P, I have been connected with a couple of professors at my university who specialize, in one way or another, in a field of study related to my project. One of them, Pak H, was a fellow who helped out my training village in Peace Corps… he’s a hoot and a half, and then some other stuff on top of that. Apparently, unbeknownst to me, he is an anthropology professor and a former Fulbrighter who studied at University of Michigan. He also, apparently, knows just about everyone in East Java and has lots of friends who practice traditional medicine, shamanism, and various other healing techniques. I guess he practices something himself, too, plus he’s head of the American Corner here on campus (more on that in the future). He’s in Jakarta until later this month, and I’m eager to re-meet him and see what’s up. There’s also another professor, Pak HS, who’s an expert in philosophy (or so I gather) who may also be able to help me.

I’m plodding along developing my research questions and beginning to consider how to approach recruiting and interviewing someone… I think I may stick close to Malang for the first couple weeks’ worth of fieldwork (perhaps pilot interviews), so I can rely on the networks I’ve established ‘round these parts to get my feet wet. Mas T seems really interested in helping me in the field, and I can tell already that I made the right choice in choosing to come back to Malang. I couldn’t imagine starting afresh at another university considering I only have ten months, and I wouldn’t even want to start over fresh anywhere else!

I finished my first book the other day, which I started for pleasure during my first few days here so that I could have a little mental break: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. It’s a non-fiction account of a family of Hmong refugees whose second-youngest member has epilepsy, which in Hmong culture predisposes her to becoming a shaman(ess). The book explores her family’s relationships with the American doctors who treat her and in doing so illuminates quite a bit about Hmong culture, history, language, medicine, and religion, as well as the author’s experiences working with the family and medical workers involved in the ‘case.’ I highly recommend it; I hope I forget enough about what happened so I can read it again before I go home. I haven’t read something so captivating in quite some time. I’ve since moved on to a practical book about ethnographic fieldnotes that is far less entertaining.