Tag Archives: Indonesia

Foreigner Privilege: The Nasty Realities of “Bule Power”

I don’t like to stir up unnecessary controversy,* which is why I want to open this post clarifying that I’m not writing this to cause harm. Rather, quite benignly, I hope to provoke reflection, something I see as a constant necessity.

There are certain realities about living as foreigners, or “bule,” in Indonesia that we need think about. I believe that host country friends should start reflecting openly on these realities, too, even though that’s not necessarily within the bounds of Javanese cultural propriety to have open critical discussion.

I’ve talked to a few people who harbor resentments and shame because of the way “bule power” operates in their lives, and unfortunately we have to make compromises in favor of open communication in cross-cultural dialogues, even if it means stepping outside of our comfort zones. Am I being hegemonic in saying that? Possibly. Do I think open communication between humans is ultimately one of the best strategies for solving problems? Yes…so, I’m in favor of the hegemony of open communication, by my own definition of it. We’re all in favor of some sort of hegemony, so don’t feel that bad about myself. Now, back to the topic at hand.

I’m going to talk about bule power and the privileged life I lead here.

It’s kinda fun to feel like a celebrity, which, as a bule, I often feel like here in Indonesia. It’s fun to get my picture in the paper without really having to do much, it’s fun to see how excited hoards of students get when I walk by or better yet walk into their classroom, and it’s fun to have people ready to help me at the drop of a hat because I’m a (Western)** foreign guest and Javanese cultural norms dictate that I be treated with the utmost respect. It’s relieving to know that I could find a lucrative job here because of my American degrees, my foreignness, and, what’s more, my native-speaker status. It’s amusing to think that I could probably become a real celebrity in the Indonesian pop culture if I put a little effort into it; I could probably become a talk show host or a model, and I could definitely be in a commercial, on a game show, or one of the bule interest shows (which do actually exist; let’s watch this bule experience x, y, and z aspects of Indonesia!).

(Most) Americans do not treat their foreigners the same way that (most) Indonesians do. There’s a stark difference when it’s people from the “developing world” coming into the “developed” world to live and work Our collective sense of American exceptionalism and superiority doesn’t afford Europeans much special treatment either. In local instances, international guests are well-received and exoticized–as I am here–but I’ve never seen the same level of fervor over foreigners in the US as I see here in Java. Usually, it’s quite the opposite feeling: resentment, confusion, and sometimes hatred of the other. Here, it’s decadent glorification.

But I’m not going to talk about whether this is right or wrong, even though I’m confident that the present-day relationship between Indonesians*** and foreigners (especially white ones) can find its roots in colonial history, replete with abusive and degrading power dynamics between the colonizers (mostly white) and the colonized (mostly brown), physical violence towards those viewed by colonizers as inferior on all levels, and various other forms of oppression and control. Obviously, the post-colonial hangover is not a positive phenomenon, at least when it manifests itself in lending privilege to others based on skin color, nationality, shape and pointiness of the nose, and brightness of the hair.

I’m not going to talk about what elements of Javanese/Indonesian culture may or may not be setting people up for abuse, because that’s victim-blaming. This kind of attitude gives foreigners a simple method for exculpating themselves from any guilt or responsibility for abusing local people and the structures of power that allow them to breeze through life here without a self-reflexive thought of any kind.

I’m not going to suggest that foreigners bear all responsibility for ensuring that power dynamics aren’t abused in the relationships in which they are in the position of power, because that would just perpetuate the imbalances; as long as one person or group is in sole control in a relationship, there can be no real equality–only a semblance of it. Separate but equal isn’t a thing, as we know.

What I am going to talk about is the abuse of this power dynamic as I have witnessed firsthand. I’m going to try and show how and why this pisses me off to the utmost.

For a sense of what it looks like in lived reality, here are a sampling things I’ve seen and heard firsthand that I think you shouldn’t say or do if you don’t want to come off as a privileged jerk bule:

  • Work in the same place for several months and not know many of the Indonesian workers’ names, but know most or all of the foreigners’
  • “Oh, you know, some people just can’t make friends with Indonesians. It’s not possible.”
  • Expecting low prices for services and getting pissed off when things aren’t cheap enough (but actually still cost just a couple of dollars…I admit, I’ve had to check myself on this one; I won’t claim to be innocent here. I still get cheesed when people won’t come down to the local price–when I know the local price–even though the difference is at most a couple bucks)
  • “I’ve lived here for seven years, and I don’t speak a word of Indonesian.”
  • Expect other foreigners (i.e. me) to give a shit about you because you’re foreign (good for you!) and therefore deserve a shit to be given about you. I try to care about people from a humanistic standpoint, so here what I’m getting at is entitlement–entitled to be cared about not as a human but as a foreigner/Westerner, necessarily exceptional for that fact
  • Expect other foreigners (i.e. me) to be interested in being friends with you or being a part of your social circle because we’re all foreign and therefore we need to stick together; this suggests that in your mind any support network of Indonesian friends someone could build on their own would be insufficient, apparently because special foreigners special needs that only other special foreigners can meet
  • Letting your ass hang out of your shorts on the street in front of campus because hey, you’re technically not on campus and cultural sensitivity is a choice
  • “These people…(blah, blah, blah)”
  • Become indignant when people treat you like a foreigner, i.e., objectify you, instead of treating you like a person–this means that you only decry your objectification, which is actually pretty much constant, when it bothers, rather than benefits you****

Have I taken advantage of my own power and privilege here? Yes, absolutely. I have pretended on a few unimportant and at least one very important occasion that I don’t speak Indonesian in order to avoid negative consequences that a normal Indonesian person would definitely have to endure. I’m given special foreigner status at the gym where I work out and can attend any class at any time while my Indonesian friends have to choose and then stick to a weekly schedule each month. I can use my almighty foreign dollar to get things done faster when I want them done faster and not actually endure much financial hardship.

Have I used my power and privilege here for good? Yes. I have helped my friends out in various ways using my foreigner status to boost their cred, coolness, and legitimacy in various important and less important contexts; I’ve used my foreigner power to help my friends get benefits they wouldn’t otherwise get. For example, I’ve given people letters of recommendation even though I’m not as qualified as their professors or bosses because having a foreigner reference you can be more advantageous.

Of course, using bule power for good is also problematic. Why? Because it makes me complicit in perpetuating the imbalanced power structure; all of the other locals who don’t have foreigner friends don’t have access to the benefits I’ve been able to help my friends access, and me using my privilege reinforces to the Indonesians and foreigners witnessing it that giving foreigners privilege is acceptable, good, and correct. In my complicity, I endorse. The only way I could achieve otherwise would be to reject completely any benefits my privilege lends me and to do so vocally.

Are Indonesian people completely innocent bystanders, powerless to make change and step up to confront this? No. Remember, we’re in Indonesia. Home turf, people! You have the right to say what you think! You kind of need to! It’s not a perfect world and we can’t just kum-bay-ya and solve these issues by “working together” (oh how I despise that ambiguous and gumdrops-and-lollipops phrase that’s so easy to drop to sound legit), but both sides do have to step up and make some decisions about how to react and counteract these systems of power. For me, I’m starting with this post and trying to be an example of someone trying to engage, on a critical level, with what’s going on.

If that makes me a bule jerk, then that’s cool. Having critics means I’m doing something right, because ultimately if people are thinking enough about something I say to the point that they get pissed, then they’re thinking, and that’s good. And hey, I live in Indonesia, so I’ve got enough of a fan base that I don’t need to care much about winning people over; I don’t want to stir up controversy, but I don’t actually give so many fucks about it.

Thanks for reading.
Sammy

*Or do I?

**I can confidently say that different people have different experiences; black Americans and Asian Americans have different experiences than white Americans; male and female foreigners have different experiences; native-speaker Westerners and non-native-speaker Westerners have different experiences; non-Western foreigners have different experiences than Western foreigners; hell, brunettes and blondes have different experiences. Not claiming any truths so much as discussing generalities and personal experiences.

***Most of my experiences in Indonesia have been in East Java and in the Javanese culture. So I use the term “Indonesians,” but it’s entirely possible that these phenomena wouldn’t occur in other ethnic populations in Indonesia, such as the Dani or Batak people of Papua and North Sumatra, respectively; there are hundreds of ethnic groups in this country, and cultures and relationships to outsiders have the potential to vary widely.

 

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At a Glance: Dukun, Kyai, and Mental Health in East Java

A man who lived a few houses down from Mas M killed himself this week. On the day, he helped his child get ready for school, dropped her off by motorcycle, came home, wrote his suicide note, then hung himself.

He wasn’t a poor man, though he was unemployed; his wife sells vegetables, and the family survives solely on her income. There were troubles in the marriage. She had recently demanded a divorce. His suicide note was addressed to her: if you want a divorce, here you go: divorce–dead.

The news of the man’s passing made the papers and was featured on the local evening news. The neighbors are still gossiping about the amount of blame to place on the wife’s shoulders in the matter. Mas M is convinced that the man had an ongoing psychological issue, and I’m inclined to believe him since I can’t fathom a parent of a young child taking his or her own life and being mentally stable at the time.

*

I don’t have statistics because the annual federal reports about healthcare in Indonesia that I have read focus primarily on more seemingly more pragmatic healthcare concerns like clean water, basic medical and nursing services, dental care, and infant mortality and health. Mental health is problematically but understandably not at the top of the lists of concerns in developing countries, and it’s not given nearly enough attention worldwide since mental illness and psychological disorders can be so invisible.

Even though I can’t quote stats for you, believe me when I say that mental therapy, counseling, and psychiatry are not widely available here in Indonesia when compared to a place like the United States. At the very least, mental health care options are not widely advertised or promoted as a normal or acceptable path to health and well-being. This is partially because modern mental healthcare hasn’t become part of the culture here yet (i.e., this isn’t because everyone knows about modern mental healthcare and rejects it outright).

The man who killed himself was undoubtedly suffering from something like acute stress or depression, undoubtedly psychologically burdened by his lack of gainful employment and his crumbling marriage. In Javanese culture, all three of these things are very looked down upon, particularly for men: divorce leads to gossip and divorcees can be shunned; men should always be employed, especially fathers and husbands, if they want to be viewed as respectable and contributing members of society; and family members of people who commit suicide are often implicated as being somehow off, wrong, or not right (i.e. implicated in not providing a supportive enough environment for their family member not to kill themselves, regardless of the family member’s mental health status or the actual home and family environment).

Many of the dukun I’ve been talking to help people with more than physical health issues, finding lost objects, matchmaking, or pregnancy and birth; they often also provide psychological and couples counseling, relationship and family advice, and mental/emotional support during difficult times. If someone is going through a rough time in their lives–feeling like they need help getting their crops to grow successfully so that they can eat and earn money, worrying about their lovelife going to hell in a handbasket, or finding difficulty coping with a serious illness like cancer or diabetes–they usually receive some level of counseling and mental health support when they pay a visit to a legitimate dukun,* even though this is not the primary purpose, in their minds, for the visit. This is a good thing not only because mental health care professionals are hard to find, particularly in rural areas, but paying for professional help is usually quite far outside the realm of financial possibility for the average Javanese villager. In fact, the unaffordability of modern medicine for some segments of the population is one reason why the services of dukun are still in high demand in some areas (mostly those that are more remote).

For coping with psychological issues, most villagers seem to rely heavily on religious leaders, and the general culture view of mental illness in that someone has strayed too far from religion and therefore has too many thoughts or wrong thoughts (which lead to wrong action, which leads to strife and tumult). The kyai is an Islamic cleric and religious leader who also offers healing services, and many villages have more than one depending on the size of the population and the strength of the religious culture in the area. As dukunkyai can be men or women, though women kyai work primarily with female audiences/visitors. They use religious teachings and spiritual counseling to help people overcome their problems. They often prescribe lifestyle changes, encourage prayer, and promote fasting, charity, and adherence to Islamic doctrine as interpreted by whatever Islamic organization/”denomination” of which they are a part.

What is interesting is that kyai, by and large, do not believe in the practices or validity of dukun, though the reverse is certainly not the case, especially when the dukun is Muslim. For the more orthodox practitioners of Islam, belief elements of the supernatural beyond standard Islamic cosmology are unacceptable and can even be heretical. For example, belief in both benevolent and malevolent jinn is standard, but the existence ghosts and ancestral and place spirits–even from Javanese cosmology and mythology–is strongly questioned. However, a villager could consult a dukun on a Saturday and visit a kyai on a Sunday for the very same reason and not be bothered by the contradiction in the slightest. The more devout among them simply say “percaya gak percaya,” I believe but I don’t believe. There’s no reason to commit either way if one or both can produce results; the end is more important than the means when well-being and religious righteousness are concerned.

*

What I have been learning so far about dukun never fails to involve contradictions, and I am going to start writing more about this. I’ve finished collecting data and finally have all of the interviews transcribed, so I’m moving on to the next phase of my project, which is analysis and write-up. I’ve been doing a lot of reading and listening, so now it’s time to speak and write.

Now that I’m not going to graduate school next fall, the possibilities for what I write and how are even more limitless than before; I’m technically not required to produce a written body of work in any format as a condition of my grant, but I had been aiming to produce an academic article in the form of a comparative piece using data from my thesis and Fulbright projects. However, I’m not sure that’s the direction I want to go any longer. I’ll probably aim to get an academic piece of some kind published, but I’m going to take the rest of the month to decide and explore my options. I don’t want participants voices to be lost and I don’t want to have to cut their stories down into little data-bites to cram everything into a short article, but I don’t want to lose sight of the original goal, which I still think is worth pursuing. I’m just contemplating alternative–additional–possibilities.

In the meantime, I’m going to start writing more and sharing here. Time to get my thoughts and new understandings on the page, and there’s no better place to start. Blank Word documents scare me.

*

I don’t really know how to wrap this post up considering how heavy the content was at the beginning. I hope that any of you who may have stigmas about mental health care consider reevaluating your ideas about the topic and make sure to support any of your friends and relatives (or yourself) in getting the care they need, if they ever need it, even if it’s just accompanying them to church, the mosque, a healer’s house, or a doctor’s office. There’s no way of knowing the inner workings of someone else’s mind or to know for sure whether any form of external support could have prevented the little girl’s father from taking his life, but it’s too much for a child to have to lose a parent to suicide and too much for any family to deal with.

Thanks for reading,
Sam

*There is such a thing as a “fake” dukun or dukun palsu, which is a person claiming to be a dukun and not actually doing anything for clients or someone who really does have supernatural powers (percaya gak percaya!) but whose primary motive in providing services is to earn as much money as possible from unsuspecting, innocent clients who are genuinely seeking help (or those nasty clients who are looking for someone to curse their neighbor or rival).

100 Things I Find Maddening about Indonesia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so, that’s all from me.
Sammy

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

100 Things I Love about Indonesia (Redux)

In no particular order:

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

To follow: 100 Things I Find Maddening about Indonesia

if you don’t know the answer, just say kennedy (or nixon)

o the wonders of optimal behavior! why are we always having to turn over new leaves? when you’re a teacher you get two opportunities for new year’s resolutions. luckily, my life tends to be in a state of permanent shamblery—apparently no matter where i am in the world—that my second round of resolutions gets a greater scope than mere teacher-world and tends to include world-world, brain-world, people-world, and being-a-tidy-non-slob-world.

this year’s spotlight shines its coruscating light on the ineffable and glorious mr. bradbury. i am your sedulous champion, bound not by sky nor stars!

“i don’t believe in optimism. i believe in optimal behavior. if you behave every day of your life at the top of your genetics, what can you do? test it. find out…you must live life at the top of your voice.”

*

and now for something completely different: holiday tales in two parts.

preface: all photos by the beautiful nisha and the monstrous travatops.

part 1: the vessels of dreams and terrors

for the first part of our summer vacation, noel, nisha, travis, and i visited the orang hutans in kumai, southern central kalimantan (borneo). we took a lovely houseboat up a river in tanjung puting national park for four days and three nights, organized by yours truly on the recommendations of diana, scott, and betsy. our guide picked us up from the pangkalan bun airport and drove us to the docks, where we met our captain and crew. the vessel was a tiny klotok, a motorized, brightly-colored wooden boat with a toilet and shower as well as a kitchen below deck. we boarded and set off toward the park, located across a large bay from kumai, pretty stoked about our awesomely badass situation.

even though it was a school holiday, there were only a few boats on the river; the park wasn’t crowded at all, save for the gigantic, hairy, rusty-red and very friendly forest people. we spent the days on the shortest and easiest hikes imaginable to orang hutan feeding sites, watching them scarf down bananas with near-unbelievable alacrity, and relaxing on the boat watching monkeys congregate in the tree branches. we read a lot, played cards (including pre-1987 trivial pursuit), listened to music, chatted with the crew, drank delicious coffee, and ate fantastic food prepared especially for us by the crew (lots of fresh fish!). blackly dark nights were spent staring at the stars and meteorites, beauties rarely visible in the perpetually glaring land of fluorescent street lamps (aka any town or village in indonesia). we had a lovely few days of relaxing quiet, ending our lazy adventures sleeping soundly on the deck of the klotok, tucked away in mosquito nets and wrapped in sarongs against the chill.

we had managed to get a flight out of the city we few into, pangkalan bun, for two days after our riverboat tour ended. we quickly discovered that there wasn’t much to see in town, so nisha and i had a greatly romantic and ingenious idea that would give us a nice, relaxing transit back to java for our next flight to sulawesi and that would save us a decent amount of money on plane tickets: take a passenger ferry from kalimantan back to java.

after a few hours of figuring out how to exchange tickets and book our sea voyage, we ended up with about fifty-five bucks each in our pockets and ferry tickets to java in our hot little hands. we decided that even though the twenty-six hour ferry ride didn’t take us directly to surabaya in east java—from whence our flight would take us to the next destination on our vacation—we could land in semarang, central java and take a bus to surabaya. easy and lovely, we thought, after our four days on a riverboat: another day on a boat, sailing the wide open sea, enjoying each others’ company and only spending about fifteen dollars.

without going into too much depth, the trip was terrible. nisha and i should have done a better job anticipating that this form of public transportation is the same as all other forms of public transportation in indonesia: crowded, smoky, not the cleanest or most comfortable (and, for us, full of gawks and stares). we didn’t have chairs—or air conditioning, or a fan, or an open window—we were economy class, lowest deck. abysmal!* moreover, noel fell asleep before she could give us her dramamine, though really we were afraid to sleep for fear of being burgled. here’s a picture of our platform. those cheery ladies are smiling only because they hadn’t yet been on board for two minutes, mind.

luckily, we arrived two hours earlier than we expected. if we had been a couple hours late, we would have risked missing our flight out of surabaya. thankfully, this didn’t happen. after enjoying the sail into the harbor, we…dismounted? de-boarded?…and hopped an angkota to the bus terminal. luckily or unluckily, we found an expensive, cushy, AC bus in which to tromp our way to surabaya. we made it across the java sea and almost half of the northern coast in about thirty-two hours or so, without really sleeping. granted, we saved fifty-five dollars that ended up being used well during the rest of our trip, but i’d like to take this opportunity to tell you that the flight from pangkalan bun to surabaya is about forty-five minutes. with seats. and snack-boxes. all we got on the boat was some free gray rice with an egg covered in what we could only surmise to be mucus. great.

after our voyage of stupidity and short-temperance, we were in stellar moods and we smelled great, not to mention how we looked (at least we didn’t have vomit stains). if i could describe the voyage in three words, the words would be…malodorous, moist, pitiable. but it makes for a good story. right?

part 2: forty-eight bookless hours, or: how we decided to move to australia

never fear, your weary travelers are about to be greatly rewarded! everything about our trip to bunaken island in north sulawesi was perfect. traveling was easy, our hostel served great food, the snorkeling was amazing, and we met a bunch of neat and friendly folks. plus, we tanned! and slept in! and didn’t have to be on a passenger ferry!

the pictures really speak for themselves. the island was quiet and not very busy, and our hostel was filled with interesting people from europe and australia, traveling in bunaken for scuba diving. one of the most famous places for snorkeling and scuba diving in the world, the island itself is small and beautiful, situated next to another small island that’s really just a giant volcano floating all on its lonesome in the ocean.

our hostel, panorama, is owned by a manado lady and her german husband, sven. he’s the diving instructor. sven! believe it? he even had blonde hair and a tan. they were a great couple. he was sweet and endearingly more excited about small fish than the average man, and she was sassy and fluent in lots and lots of languages (though i especially liked hearing her speak bahasa manado and bahasa indonesia with her staff—their accents made them sound like they were speaking spanish or italian, a remnant from their portuguese colonizers). other guests included two very funny and sweet australian guys traveling with their german buddy, a couple of austrians, some swiss guys (one of whom has been traveling since 2009!), and a few other european-types. of course, our language skills also helped us make friends with the local staff and dive instructors.

during our stay at panorama, the weather was perfect and we snorkeled everyday. we’d go out on the boat to different sites and would snorkel while the scuba divers dove below. the snorkeling was by far the most amazing part of the entire vacation. i was the only person of the four of us who hadn’t snorkeled before and i sure went to the right place to do it. at the risk of sounding cliché, it was like being in a giant aquarium. the corals and fishes were just as colorful and bright, the water just as blue. i’d never seen such blue water…or so much of it. the reefs would end at the drop off; we couldn’t see anything but pure blue emptiness where the reefs ended and ocean began. it was fairly terrifying, but not so much so that we didn’t snorkel multiple times a day. there were so many fish. i wish we had had an underwater camera; maybe we’ll get some pictures from our australian friends who had one, then i can post them here. until then, here are some pictures of other things. enjoy!

*thank you, travis, for not killing me or nisha.