I knew this would be a year of changes.  As much as I hate change, I don’t quite understand why I keep feeling the need to change where I live.  Now, I find myself reflecting on the glorious Virginian fall, where I could be going to pumpkin patches with Julie, going on West Virginia mountain adventures with my mom, or tailgating at a VT football game with my brother.  (This is what I did last fall.)

BUT for whatever reason, there is that itch inside me—the urge and need to push myself and fling myself into the unknown.  And then I call my mom on Skype and whine about it.  It’s a nice tradition.

One of my all-time favorite quotes is from T.S. Eliot

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

I’m never more grateful for my amazing home, family, and friends than when I leave them.

However, before this gets too mopey- I DO like to explore and find out about other people and cultures, so that’s what I’m doing.

Some of the ch-ch-changes I’ve been experiencing: (watch out, here comes another list!)

1.)    The stares/photos:  I KNEW this would happen; I had heard from many people who were here last year, as well as from my brother who spent a semester in China.  White people are rarities.  Maybe not in the capital—Jakarta, but in Palembang I can go for a week or so without seeing a Westerner.  This isn’t a good or bad thing really, it’s just reality.  But at first (and even still now) I just feel so exposed and awkward when I’m out or even on campus.  Everyone looking at me and staring.  For someone who admittedly does sometimes like to be the center of attention (me?) I surprisingly am not loving this! (Forgive the grammar mistake/McDonalds phrase).  The other part is the photos.  Random people come up to me and say ‘photo’ and gesture to myself and themselves.  I had my photo taken in a KFC! The best are the sneaky over the shoulder photos, where they just want a picture of you, but don’t feel the need to pose with you.  Usually I really don’t mind—even at school lots of students keep poking their heads into my office and rambling on for a few minutes before I figure out they want to take their picture with me.  It’s just rather strange.  I have a new empathy for all those Hollywood superstars (because this is SO the same level here…ha).

Jackie demonstrates the enthusiasm of photos with Westerners at Kawah Putih!

I changed it up on em, and decided to take a picture of THEM! (This was before my speech to 2,500 first year students at IAIN!)

2.)    Transportation: I think the first thing I realized when I arrived in Palembang was that I had no idea how the heck I was going to get around this city of almost 2 million people.  The motorcycles and cars follow no traffic laws that I can see.  They all zip in and out of lanes, or drive in between lanes—those stripes down the road being mere suggestions I suppose.  Seatbelts don’t exist in most backseats.  Motorcycles will be carrying whole families—children without helmets (a scary sight for a paranoid American).  I was (still am) intimidated by the public transportation here.  There are big city buses with AC and a route.  There are smaller/junkie city buses named: “Kota” which means city… I’ve also heard them referred to as ‘diskotas” (as in discoteque because they’re so loud.)  Many people have urged me not to ride them as they have ‘criminals’ on them… so I won’t. for now.  Then are angkots or oplets as they’re called here.  These are like minibuses or vans that have a route (not sure where you find out their route) and you can wave them down wherever and have them drop you wherever (on their route). They cost 25 cents!  They are masters at swerving through traffic (It feels like the Knight Bus on HP!)

An oplet (similar to what I took to work today!)

There are ojeks—which are people who have motorcycles and will drive you to your destination (like a taxi, but on a motorcycle).

An Ojek!

There are taxis of course, only one of which has ripped me off.  (Now I’m a wiser bule (foreigner) who will only ride in metered taxis).  And there are becaks.  The becaks are really fun and I had my first ride in one the other day.  They’re basically pedi-cabs.  Men on bicycles that have a little carriage in front for you to sit in. They pedal along beside the mental traffic that’s wooshing by—and despite the “drivers’ ” skinny frames, go pretty darn fast! The transport options are almost overwhelming.

Here is a becak. I rode one of these from the market the other day.

Another option is (gasp) WALKING!  So, walking doesn’t happen much here. People are very confused at this idea of walking to a place.  I’m starting to agree though, because this heat is INSANE.  However, the other day I decided to start walking from my house towards the mall, figuring I’d find a taxi or something along the way.  Many people seeing this strange bule walking would motorcycle or drive by and ask “Mau ke mana” which is literally “where do you want to go?”  This isn’t exactly an invitation that they would like to take you themselves, more of just a “what’s up” (as I understand it…)  I had two motorcyclists stop beside me and talk to me (rapidly) in Bahasa Indonesia.  I smiled, nodded, said “PIM” (Palembang Indah Mall).  Well the second person who stopped, a woman, was talking away and I was nodding, and she said “Ayo!” I do know enough Bahasa Indonesia to know that means “Let’s go!”  At this point the sweat was pouring, and I didn’t quite know how to GET to PIM, so I said ok! And I hopped on her bike.  Now, this was my FIRST time on a motorcycle.  I’m 26 years old and I haven’t lived.  It was great—and slightly scary.  I didn’t really look ahead though—just to the sides, so I didn’t get too freaked.  She dropped me near the mall, I tried to pay her, and she shook her head no.  It was great!  I’m wondering if this can be my mode of transport…. Walk until a nice lady picks me up on her motorcycle.

3.)    Housing:  So I was dead pleased to finally land a house!  It’s in a great neighborhood, close to my counterpart’s house.  I have a really nice neighbor who is my age and has already helped me loads.  Luckily, this isn’t my first time living alone—last year was good practice.  However, I don’t have a TV or a radio.  When I’ve lived without a TV, I’ve always been able to rely on good ol’ NPR to fill up the background noise.  Oooh how I miss NPR.  But we do have the wonder of the internet, and I have downloaded many podcasts.

Rumah saya! (my house)

The temperature of my house ranges from: hotter than hell (kitchen & living room) to (what feels like in comparison) Antarctica in my two bedrooms.  So there are air conditioners in the bedrooms—which are connected by a door so I claim them both, but no AC in the other rooms.  I’ve tried leaving one of the bedroom doors open to the living room—to cool it off. I felt it worked, but I could hear Ricky scolding me for wasting energy/electricity/whatever. Also, I heard my neighbor warning me of those bugs that will crawl into my room. (ugh).  I’m still working on this issue—one possible solution is buying a fan! Another possible solution is to live in my bedrooms and only come out for food, then scurry back to the bedroom.

4.)    Bugs: I knew it would happen. It’s even on my list: to NOT freak out when I see the creepy-crawleys.  AND actually I’ll have you know, I didn’t exactly freak.  Okay. Maybe I did… NOT with the ants which are everywhere.  (but not for long—I have cleaning supplies/bug killer).  But with the cockroaches that decided to visit over the weekend, yep I freaked a bit.  Luckily the first appearances happened when two of my friends were visiting—Dustin & Annalisa.  They’re the two Fulbright English Teaching Assistants who live in Palembang and teach at local high schools.

Dustin & Annalisa: the Fulbright ETAs in Palembang! We were being mega-Americans and eating dinner at Pizza Hut!


Annalisa braved the evil creature armed with my VT flip-flop.  Poor Hokies.  So she got that one.

The remains of the evil creature that Annalisa killed for me !

On Sunday, however, they struck back with a vengeance.   I can’t go into full details, I might cry, but let’s just say there were two in my toilet.  I killed one, rinsed another down the toilet (where it is probably waiting to repay me AHHH). So then I ran to my neighbor’s house, got the local repair guy who is always around to come and DEAL with those jerks.  He put some wire netting over the drains and caulked up some cracks.  We sprayed a lot of spray and he poured cooking oil down the drains… maybe makes it too slippery for them to crawl up?  Anyway, I am telling myself, it could be worse.  Another fellow—in Jakarta—had a rat come up his toilet for a visit.  If that happens I might pass out.

5.)    Call to prayer: As I believe I anticipated earlier—the call to prayer is maybe not so exciting after a few weeks.  It does still remind me 5 times a day that I am in a Muslim country, which is still rather exciting now.  However, I now live very close to a mosque, so it’s not a distant sound, but more like a microphone outside of my window. The dawn call has only woken me up a few times, and luckily I tend to fall back asleep easily.  But the other ones startle me and are super loud.  I’d like to point out here that I am not whining, only OBSERVING.

The mosques have microphones that project the call to prayer across the city (which can sometimes last 5 minutes or so)


I’ll reflect on the teaching another time, once I’ve taught more than a couple classes.  Thanks for tuning in to the longest blog post EVER.  Til next time!


About Deirdre Hand

"To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted." Bill Bryson
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7 Responses to Ch-ch-changes

  1. Laurie says:

    Hi Deidre,
    I don’t know you, but I know of you through your Mom (who used to come to book group at my home) and your Dad (who I’ve met through friends a couple times). I don’t know either of them well, but I sure am hoping your Mom can get back to book group soon!
    I enjoyed reading the longest blog post ever! You have a style of writing that is entirely readable and I look forward to following your blog! I too love adventure and experiencing new things …. but I also love change. Good on you for moving out into the world even though you do not like change … or so you say 🙂
    I love the fact that you road your first motorcycle … I started riding at age 48 and have been riding ever since! I also started blogging this summer and essentially it’s a place for me to journal, to share photography and to write just a bit about some of my adventures in SWVA and beyond. Check it out if you like. You’ll see a lot of shots of nature and of motorcycles but also a comparison of FloydFest and the NRV Fair.
    Take care!! I’m following …

  2. Molly Cox says:

    Mmmm, time for a new tradition perhaps? Nah, it’s fine. You are doing great. I love the blog postings and the pictures. By the way… coolest house ever!!!

  3. Kate Bu says:

    Great post, Deirdre! And OMG about the bugs. I don’t consider myself super squeamish, but that picture of the squished roach is about all I want to see. Yikes.

    Also–awesome story about the lady driving you to the mall! If only that could happen to me too! Maybe we can find some nice ladies in our respective cities to just hire to drive us everywhere? I wish.

    • deirdrehand says:

      Thanks Kate! So no bug problems yourself over in Surabaya?? I just decided to do what you said you were doing–upload everyone’s blogs to google reader! so I need to go catch up! I would love my own personal lady driver haha. Are you finding the transportation a tad bit more manageable now??

  4. Steve Doherty says:

    Deidre – Your blog is wonderful – wish we were all there with you to experience the new culture. Keep the stories coming – We will make sure to limit future family photo’s. Don’t want you over exposed.

    Uncle Steve

    • deirdrehand says:

      Thanks Uncle Steve!! I wish you all were here too~ please feel free to visit anytime–I have an extra bedroom! 🙂 Haha, don’t worry about the thousands of family photos– I enjoy those!

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