Tag Archives: Indonesia

One month left & too many thoughts to organize

(June 2, 2015)

The newest group of Peace Corps Indonesia trainees are swearing in tomorrow, marking their first day as Volunteers and the start of their leave-taking as they transition from Batu-Malang to their individual permanent sites. My grant period ends in a little over a month, and my fellow Fulbrighters (Sarah and Grace, both English Teaching Assistants) have departed now that their grant periods are over. Maria is heading overseas to travel a bit since she graduated from her Darmasiswa language training program. Other friends here are moving on to new jobs, getting ready to graduate, getting ready to move to new cities, finishing up their work contracts, having babies, accepting positions in new countries, getting ready to take the necessary exams to start studying abroad…family and friends in the US are having babies, getting married, graduating, accepting new jobs, finishing dissertations, transitioning to new work situations, etc etc. It’s a time of transition, as all moments actually tend to be, even the ones that seem still (like the moments one finds oneself at home alone on a federal holiday, no plans, no adventures, no running around town).

Thinking about going back for the summer before starting a new chapter here in Indonesia has prompted reflection, of course, and I think the fires of it have been stoked by connecting with the Peace Corps trainees. Life in Malang this year has been incredibly different from my life as a PCV in Magetan. When I got my assignment to serve in Indonesia in early 2010 and finished service in 2012, I had no idea I would come back here so quickly or decide to stay longer and try to make the expat/immigrant life work for myself here. Honestly, I thought I’d be closing the door on full-time life in Indonesia, perhaps studying Indonesia a little bit in graduate school to see if it ‘fit’ as a research interest (since I had already invested so much time and energy learning the language and a little bit of the culture and history of this place), promoting Third Goal activities Stateside, maybe connecting with Indonesians in the US every now and then (and definitely reconnecting with my fellow ID4/5 Volunteers). I applied for the Fulbright thinking I had a chance but probably wouldn’t get it; doing another Fulbright application would be good professional experience, I figured. I accepted the Fulbright with doubts about my ability to return and be emotionally/mentally healthy, avoid depression and anxiety, not develop another pattern of disordered eating (and constantly fluctuating weight and self-esteem), and find positive strategies for self-care and relaxation that didn’t make me feel guilty about avoiding engagement with the community and “wasting” time abroad.

There are a few things about life in Malang that make living in East Java immeasurably easier now, as a city/campus-based Fulbrighter, than village-style living. It was blatantly obvious to me that living alone (or at least with same-aged peers in a housemate-type situation) rather than with a full-time host family would make a huge difference, as would being able to take and use motorcycles. Living with constant access to Wifi, indulging in my first smartphone, and making my own schedule also help, as do my current “work” situation (research and writing on my own schedule vs. teaching high school) and being surrounded more or less by same-aged peers with similar interests and experiences rather than high schoolers, little kids, and adults/grandparents (in my village, people my age were either busy raising their children or off in a bigger city studying rather than hanging around the village, and so I had…well, no friends my age in my village who could just hang out).

I suppose the major point of reflection on this line of thought is the inadequacy of blanket/zero-tolerance Peace Corps policies for nurturing Volunteers to be the best they can be. There are two major benefits to motorcycling, for me: (1) engaging with the community is much easier when transportation options aren’t limited, meaning cross-cultural communication/interaction is boosted, one can attend and participate in more cultural events, and it’s not a burden to community members to organize special transportation, and (2) I’m in control of myself, and I can remove myself from uncomfortable situations very easily when I control my own transportation, i.e. didn’t ride in someone’s car to an event. Plus–obviously–there’s greater independence, meaning I can do things like shopping and going to the gym without having to waste time doing public transit, even though the downside of that is there’s less engagement with people on public transit. But honestly… that was always really trying on my patience, anyway.

In terms of housing, I realized once I was able to step away from Peace Corps life after finishing service that I had been putting excessive amounts of pressure on myself to engage with people, especially my host family, because I felt like shutting myself in my room–even though it was the only way I could get private, personal, re-charge-the-batteries time at site–was a bad thing to do. Imagine berating yourself for two years straight about taking me-time. I think the mentality of PC being a 24/7 job is really detrimental, and constant pressure–even if it comes from oneself–to engage and be active and “on” can be totally damaging to one’s ability to serve and be the best PCV possible. For me, “best” here means healthy, mentally and emotionally resilient, well-rested, positive and outgoing and open-hearted, and loving. I need to note here that the 24/7 job thing is actually part of the swearing in oath that PCVs take when they start their service. Why do we think that’s an okay thing to agree to?

I wasn’t my best self when I was a PCV, and I think it would have been totally different for me if I had my own place and my own transportation in my village. The reason we do host families here is because it fits cultural norms and provides a great community support system for Volunteers’ safety and security, and the reason we don’t do motorcycles is because of the liability issues and difficulties of getting injured Volunteers to hospitals with Western standards (PCVs in Indonesia with serious injuries must be medically evacuated to Bangkok, Thailand) on top of the expenses and risks of transporting seriously injured Volunteers. I know I signed up for Peace Corps and all its rules and regulations, but I think it’s a shame that the program can’t be more attentive to nurturing Volunteers rather than helping them survive (emotionally, mentally, and literally, i.e. health-wise). I think Volunteers develop the habit of blaming themselves for their adjustment issues, although in some cases a few simple environmental, i.e. external, tweaks could work wonders for the PCV and their communities.

That’s all for now– some fun and pic-filled posts coming soon! The gang and I have been doing a lot of adventuring as we try to make use of our last precious days together, so I want to share about that… next time. I also want to write some more posts of substance, and I think that having more time this summer will allow for that. Who ever dreamed I’d still have summers “off” at nearly 30 years old? Score.

And in closing, I need to say: so sorry for the scatterbrained posts lately! I feel like there’s not enough time to organize my blogging as much as I’d like, but I’d rather share something than nothing, even if it’s pic-less and messy. Hopefully you can get something, and at the very least I like to get my thoughts out, though there’s hardly time to reflect on my own reflections. That’s lame! Life just never slows down… and that’s sublime, in its way.

Thanks for reading, as always!
Sam

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Fulbright Conference: Jogjakarta

Every year, AMINEF, the organization that administers Fulbright in Indonesia, hosts a conference for current Fulbrighters in Indonesia (and Indonesian Fulbrighters and Fulbright alumni heading to or already returned from the US). This year, the conference was held in the lovely and familiar Jogjakarta, Central Java…which is lucky for me, since AMINEF is based in Jakarta, and only crazy people like taking a few days’ trip to that mega-mess.*

The three-day conference was organized into two segments: the American and Indonesian grantees were split into two groups on the first day for program-specific sessions, and the second and third days were a formal seminar on society, environment, and education in Indonesia. Most of the presenters in the seminar were senior scholars from Indonesia and the US, and a few of the grantees from my cohort also presented. The majority of the fourteen of us–about ten people, including myself–presented in a less formal setting on Tuesday. It was a little disappointing that we all didn’t get to present in the larger seminar (which was open to the public), but I assume it’s because our topics were only tangentially related to the seminar theme if they were related at all rather than we didn’t make the cut or have an interesting enough project or the right qualifications or whatever. Ha! I didn’t get the explanation (or if we did get it, I can’t remember), but it has something to do with the new AMINEF director wanting to change the conference format…

Overall, I felt by far that the Tuesday portion of the event was the most engaging and exciting. I was so excited to hear what others in my cohort are/were researching; we were all in touch over email in the beginning of the fall semester, but never having met in person made it feel quite distant. I can’t speak for everyone, but there is only one person I’m somewhat close with, and it’s because we happened to arrive in Jakarta at the same time for our orientation and the start of our grants. There are some others who knew one another from language training in Jogjakarta (if you apply for a Fulbright in a critical language country, you can get extra funding to study language before starting your grant. I applied for this but didn’t get it because I speak too much Indonesian…), but I think for most of us it was our first time meeting in person. All of the presentations on Tuesday were incredibly interesting, and I felt really wowed and inspired–also kept thinking, damn, I’m a part of this group??

Just to give a sense of some of the things people are researching: I heard talks on civet coffee production, the relationship between ancient kingdoms in Indonesia and contemporary/independence era nationalism, alternative education, evolutionary diversity in cone snails (or something along those lines–it was complex and I’m not a science person!), captivity/rehabilitation and post-captivity orangutans and their stress levels (measured through urinary and fecal samples), women’s role(s) in organic/sustainable farming initiatives in matrilineal tribes, neuroscience programs and science education in general in Indonesian higher ed., heritage building restoration/preservation, and a few more. One lady is researching/tracking Sumatran tigers and plans to catch and collar five of them. Others are doing environmental research and looking at land degradation, palm plantations, and resources exploitation. All of the projects are fascinating and so different from one another. Lots of fields and disciplines are represented in the cohort, and it’s great!

The only bad thing about Tuesday was listening to the horror stories some people were telling about their research permit, data collection, and instrument/equipment struggles. Many of the student researchers are scientists and need to take samples of biological material back to the US for analysis in labs over there since adequate facilities aren’t available here and/or it will take a longer amount of time to do the project than what the grant allows. Most of the researchers doing scientific research have to spend tons of money on buying specialized equipment or paying extra baggage fees to get it from the US to here when they come over, though their grant monies are just the same as mine (and all I need is a computer and a cell phone / digital voice recorder). Certain researchers are having a hell of a time getting their permits in order to even get an adequate number of samples to validate their results, and others are having trouble getting permission to take samples out of the country. One lady was held back five months in getting her permits. This sucks on many levels, particularly because everyone in the cohort but me and my friend from orientation is enrolled in a doctoral program (or doing post-doc) and are actually–unlike me–on an academic timeline for completing their dissertation. It’s a shame that they’re experiencing difficulties.

I’m know there’s a long history of foreign researchers coming and abusing the country and stealing material, samples, etc etc from Indonesia and heard recently that foreign firms sometimes hire students as interns and use them to illegally transport materials out of the country, but giving problems to student researchers with Fulbrights isn’t the solution to these problems. We do actually care about Indonesia and want to teach other people about it through our work and engage with Indonesian academics…goes without saying perhaps that we’re not in the business of stealing from the country for our own professional gain. All of the student and senior scholars I met at the conference were incredibly passionate about Indonesia–preserving its natural resources, documenting the lives of people here, protecting and helping animals and conservation efforts, seeking understanding of the complex eco- and cultural systems, etc. It’s just a shame that history makes the present so difficult for some of us…and even though I do think that post-colonial countries have to be particularly vigilant about foreign interest, it seems that Indonesia would do better to look at the hundreds of multinational corporations–especially in the extraction industries–abusing this country and make things more difficult for them rather than wasting manpower and economic resources giving researchers the runaround. But it’s easier to make money off business than academia, and I think that’s why so much else slides; I can see how if there’s no tangible ($$) benefit from the research it’d be easier to focus on the drawback…as in, you’re gonna use this to get famous or published in your country and leave us with nothing, so why should we let you do that? I totally see the logic, but…from an academic perspective, it’s rubbish. It reminds me of when I arrived in country and the AMINEF director at that time wanted me to shift the focus of my project to researching the increasing commercialization of traditional medicines and their entry into consumer markets; there’s something to be said about knowledge for its own sake, and when other interests get thrown into the mix, other parties put themselves in the precarious position of devaluing knowledge for its own sake.

I do think there should be a stronger push from within Fulbright and AMINEF to encourage greater collaboration with host country academics to boost the benefit for Indonesia and host institutions and to make sure that knowledge about Indonesia in Western academia is more frequently co-produced by Indonesian scholars. This was one topic of discussion during the Thursday session at the conference, and it was nice to reflect on and discuss together. Indonesian academic and other non-Western academic publications in general don’t get as much “air time” as publications by Western scholars in Western publications, even internationally-focused ones…this is wrong, of course, but it’s reality right now, and one way to change it is through collaboration and co-creation of new projects and knowledge. But back to the problem of hassling student researchers; I don’t think that targeting student researchers and making executing their research projects (for which they already gained approval from the Indonesian government) difficult is going to foster mutual collaboration and growth between academics across cultures. All it’s going to do is dissuade young academics with passion for Indonesia away from coming here to conduct research…and for crying out loud the US government is paying for us to do this anyway.

The Indonesian government makes money off of Fulbright anyway because of our permit and visa fees (which aren’t minuscule, especially if you think about how many people are coming through each year in addition to the ETAs and senior scholars; I have spent about $400-500 on permits and visa fees so far for the grant, if not more…so multiply that by about 75 people per year maybe? And the fees the Indonesian Fulbrighters need to pay to get their passports in order to leave to the US? Maybe it’s a small amount, but I’m sure there’s more revenue from taxes or other fees AMINEF needs to pay…blah blah blah. We’re not giving nothing to the government, at the very least, and it’s a reliable annual free funds generator. Right?). And we help the Indonesian economy by bringing our dollars here to spend. I’m sure I sound entitled–Indonesia shouldn’t make troubles for us!–but really, we love Indonesia, we love our work, and we want to do good. Uh, and we’re students. We’re not very wealthy and we do have to make professional progress for our own livelihoods. I get that there are power dynamics at play and research can be exploitative and the government has to look out for its natural resources and its population, but…but. But. But. Can’t everyone just look out for each other? Can’t the government look out for promising young scholars of whatever nationality with deep love and interest in Indonesia, because ultimately the more people doing important work here (hopefully with Indonesian counterparts), the better? More interest, more research, more international funding, more support for college students and scientists here, more education, more engagement, more international attention and respect, more Indonesian scholars travelling abroad and representing their country.

Ranty rant! One of the student researchers said that the government is keeping track of all of our blogs. I hope that’s the case, because if someone is reading this, then I can feel a little better about the lack of response to my legally obligatory quarterly reports that I sent to the research ministry. At least someone somewhere is hearing what I have to say, maybe! I just feel bad; I haven’t had any issues with my permits or anything. I had to modify my research plan once I realized the bureaucratic hoops I’d need to jump through to do research in more than one regency, but it wasn’t a major complication and ended up helping the logistics of my project re: grad “assistants”…but I don’t have anyone telling me I can’t take my interview recordings or transcripts out of the country or anything like that. That would be terrible. From what I heard this past week at the conference, it seems like it’s hit or miss–some people have troubles based on their topic of research and what they want to take out of the country, sure, but also what time of day they call or visit the requisite offices and with whom they end up speaking. No consistency, and it’s the grantees who suffer (alongside Indonesia). Why?

The content of the Wednesday-Thursday sessions was interesting, too, although I wish the conference topic had been more germane to my field. It’s hard to sit through sessions and maintain active attention for hours and hours on end, even with knitting in hand, if it’s not pertinent or at least tangentially pertinent. Sadly, I spent a lot of time forcing myself to be interested and engaged, and that’s not a fun feeling. I think it was a lot of stimulation and socialization, and you know that can be overwhelming to me. Anyway, it was nice to meet senior lecturers from both the US and Indonesia whose regional research interest(s) overlap with my own, and the side-chats I had over those two days with people over lunch and between sessions were great. I don’t yet feel super connected to the tiny part of the academic world that focuses on Indonesian studies, and that was remedied somewhat. I know that if I continue graduate school and study with an Indonesianist this feeling will change, of course, but it was refreshing to feel stimulated and energized about my project and the region of interest (not that I’m not energized or stimulated by Indonesia; I’m speaking of Indonesian studies in the formal sense, and since I still feel I’m on the periphery since I hadn’t had formal exposure to Indonesian studies prior to this, it feels hard to get a grasp on, at least on my own).

I think this is all I want to say right now; I’m going to write another post about my research and my research presentation as well as what I’ve been up to recently. I think this post is long enough and photoless enough to just post and get it over with!

Thanks for listening! I’ll let you know if I have anything else to say!
xox
Sam

gallery visit – fauna by amrizal

Satrio, Ale, Vriz and I went to a local art show recently. The exhibition was “Fauna” by Sumatran artist Amrizal (pictured above). His work is currently on tour, and we were lucky enough to have him in Batu for a week. The gallery, Pondok Seni – Galeri Raos Batu, was intimate and warm; I hadn’t ever been there before, and I’m beyond happy that Satrio brought us there. The gallery has different exhibits from week to week; I’m sure we’ll go back soon so that I can share more. This was my first time seeing any artwork outside of museums and batik studios–my first glance at contemporary Indonesian art. It was wonderful.

The theme of the exhibition was “fauna” or animals, and each image had a black and white representation of humans and/or animals plus handwritten text in a variety of languages (predominately Indonesian). The text was primarily political and social commentary–the progressive and liberal type that resonates with me personally–but much of it was hard to read. There was some poetry thrown in as well. It was sometimes in accessible because as far as I could tell a lot of it was stream-of-consciousness scribbling, so the artist was writing fast n furious making the letters hard to discern at times. Plus, reading Indonesian is harder than speaking, and I struggled with the language barrier. But, I could understand that there was commentary about economics, capitalism, war (the text below the large eagle was almost exclusively anti-war commentary), education and poverty, history, geopolitics… It was stunning work and invigorating to see and experience. There’s a lively and active punk/anti-capitalist/anarchist/underground scene here, so I wasn’t totally surprised by the nature of the exhibition or its content, but it was a little bit of a surprise to find it in Batu, a tourist town with a focus on agriculture and eco-tourism. A pleasant surprise, for sure.

So, I didn’t take a billion pictures, and unfortunately we didn’t get to meet the artist in person. But you can get a quick idea from these pics about what the gallery looked like, what the basic concept of the exhibition was, and some grasp of the general/overall feeling. Next time we go to an exhibition, I will take more notes so I can provide additional (more thorough) commentary; I snapped a bunch of pics this time with the intention of posting them here so you could see what the gallery was like. The artwork was so beautiful and the space was so perfect. I had a wonderful time and felt–as I said–invigorated, like…okay, back to “normal,” ha! This was a really comfortable space for me, and I was so pleased to enjoy it with close friends. I love seeing my own political and cultural beliefs reflected to me across the medium of culture; finding connections with people (artists, friends, colleagues, whomever) at the basic or fundamental levels of worldview or political outlook despite hugely different religious and cultural backgrounds is sublime, in the sense of actual sublimity, not cheesiness. Shared subculture, solidarity. No matter where one comes from or what one’s life looks like, we can find common ground in recognizing and speaking out against common enemies (greed, corruption, consumer capitalism gone wrong, free market economics gone worse, the destruction of war, etc etc). The rest is often just details.

Thanks again to Satrio. Really looking forward to the next visit to pondok seni.
That’s all for now,
Sammy

Khitan: Coming of Age

So, I haven’t been to a circumcision party in a long time, but I went to one this week! I used to go to circumcision parties all the time in the Peace Corps, but, now that I live in the city, it is a rarity for me to get invited to one (largely because I don’t live with a host family, I think). However, I got an invitation last week delivered to my boarding house, and I was stoked to go and celebrate with the family.

Circumcision parties happen in two forms here, in my experience: one where the kid is snipped right before (or sometimes during) the party and has to sit wrapped up in a sarong atop a pillow for the duration, and one where the kid is snipped several days or even a couple/few weeks before the party and the “party” is just a reception where the kid and his family receives guests (menerima tamu). Normally, in the village, the circumcision party is of the first variety. The one I went to this week was of the second. The young man of honor was a little boy I’ve been visiting occasionally to help him boost his conversational English skills.

I met the family when the father approached IRO looking for a native English speaker to hang with his kids, and Mas T hooked me up with the connection. The family is really lovely, and they treat me to a tasty meal every time we meet. I speak English with all of them; the dad’s a prof and the momma is an English and maths teacher at the local Kumon education center. Their eldest child is a sweet and thoughtful high school girl with a speech impediment (which has caused her to endure a lot of teasing here, as collectivist cultures tend to value conformity and ridicule those who stand out, especially in adolescence…although kids with lisps get teased a lot in the US too, of course). She likes the band Evanescence and loves to travel. Their youngest is a sassy, sassy boy who’s in 4th grade. He loves his iPad, eats nonstop, and speaks great English for his young age. He’s also a maths champ!

So, it was his circumcision a few weeks ago that we were celebrating this week. Last time I saw him, I asked him whether he was nervous and how he was going to cope with the procedure. He said well, I’ve got a plan–I’m just gonna bring my iPad and play games. No big deal. Ha!

An Islamic rite, the circumcision ceremony is called khitan. Age of circumcision depends on the country/culture context. Here in Indonesia (and as far as I know also in Malaysia), it occurs sometime prior to puberty but after age 5-6. Female circumcision also happens here and is known as an adapted or adopted Arab custom, although it’s not as widespread as in some African countries like Egypt and Somalia. Usually it happens at birth or in infancy for girls.* Circumcision of any kind is not directly mentioned in the Qur’an as a requirement or obligation, but it is mentioned in the hadith (the narration of the words and actions of the prophet as witnessed by those around him during his life, saved so that Muslims can behave virtuously through mimicry/embodiment) and sunnah (practices and beliefs the prophet himself, directly, taught Muslim adherents to follow).[1]

At the reception, our newly chopped friend sat on a special bench in front of a huge poster with his face on it and received guests for photos (and gifts). We had a lot of tasty food, listened to some beautiful live singing including songs by various family members brave enough to take the mic, and heard speeches from important family members like grandpa, mom, and dad. It was a lovely event, the climax of which was the little boy reciting some Qur’anic verses for the audience. (I want to upload a video, but I can’t figure it out. Sorry. Next time.)

At the end of the party, the little boy just broke my heart with his happiness at my attendance. He so sweetly asked “When are you going to come and see us again?”, really just melting my heart. He’s sassy and spoiled, and I just love him. I was glad to have gone and supported him, and meeting the extended family was lovely. This party was much swankier than anything I’d ever seen in the village, but the feeling of happiness and pride was just as palpable, and of course the tea was just as sweet.

That’s all for now; just a brief little post and a few pics. I hope you learned something new!
Sammy

*In the mid-2000s, female circumcision (female genital mutilation or FGM) was made illegal by the Indonesian federal government (even though later federal guidelines outlining safe methods and techniques for female circumcision to local health facilities contradict the federal position towards it). I think any tampering with genitals should happen in adulthood after someone, male or female, can give fully informed consent. Here’s an article on the current state of affairs re: FGM and Indonesia. As I’m sure you’re aware by now, Indonesia is home to the largest population of Muslims in the world, and FGM occurs widely and is supported by some major Islamic social organizations here despite its dangers to women’s physical and psychological (not to mention sexual) health and isn’t even prescribed by the Qur’an.

[1] http://www.understanding-islam.com/articles/sources-of-islam/hadith-and-sunnah-two-different-concepts-186

Macau travels and other tidbits!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sending love from Java,
Sam

Trip to Lenggoksono – Lunar New Year

Here are some photos from a day trip to the south coast! We went last Thursday, Lunar New Year: rented a car, left at 6:30 in the morning, had fun boating around and taking pics all day, and made it back to town for spicy chicken feet by 8 o’clock. Here’s the location of the beach:

The pics below (and their captions) say it all. I thought about writing this all out, but I’m focusing on my research project right now since I’ve got a conference coming up at the end of March and need to get crackin’ on this thing. Enjoy!

Sammy Meets Bromo

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!
Sammy

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