Beauty and Race in Indonesia

I would like to preface this post by saying this is my very limited perspective.  From the perspective of a white, female, middle-class American.  This is my blog, it contains my thoughts and attitudes about things.  I am sure other people have other ideas and perspectives when it comes to such a complex topic.  That being said… here is what I think.

In a previous post I talked about conferences I’ve been involved with so far.  Another conference I participated in was one organized by my friend, Iris, at her university in Malang, on the island of Java.  She organized a Cross Cultural Communication Conference (C4).  Holly and I co-led a discussion/presentation about cultural perceptions of beauty.

This is discussion/topic has been the theme of many conversations I’ve had here in Indonesia with other foreigners.  It is a touchy subject, and I think being white in Indonesia has really made me think about ideas of beauty and how they intersect with race.

Upon coming to Indonesia, there were a lot of things that shocked me, that I didn’t understand, or that I found strange—maybe funny, maybe not.  One thing I got a lot when I started working was, “Miss you’re so beautiful!”  Now, who is going to complain about being told their beautiful all the time?  Not me!  But seriously, it does take you aback.  How are you supposed to answer that?  I always tell them that they are too (Because usually they are girls).  Now, my parents have been telling me I’m beautiful since I was little, so I do have some confidence in that department (unlike many girls in our beauty-obsessed culture).  BUT, the girls telling me how beautiful I am here, also usually have a remark about my lovely white skin, or my long nose.  YES, that’s right, telling me I have a long nose is a compliment here!  They say, “Miss, your nose is so long!”  But with their smiling faces, I know that they like the long nose look.  I try to tell them, in the United States, if someone told me my nose was long I would be ashamed or embarrassed!  It is not a good thing necessarily.  However, they like my long nose here, and again, who am I to complain?

But I’m going to complain, because not only my experiences, but through the experiences of other fellows, ETAs, and friends teaching in Indonesia, I have found that unfortunately the idea of whiter = more beautiful is so entrenched in Indonesian society (as well as other Asian countries).  This is not a news flash. This is not a new thought.  This has been researched, examined, and of course, taken advantage of by beauty products and ad campaigns.  It is almost impossible to find soap or lotion that doesn’t contain some whitening agents.

Lightening skin cream

Lightening skin cream

I have a few friends here in Palembang who teach for an English language school.  They’re three British girls, two are of Indian/African descent, and one is of Irish.  So clearly, the white one gets the most attention (which can be a good or bad thing, depending on your mood).  They all teach kids—from elementary to out of high school aged.  They told me a story over dinner one night about these flashcards they use to teach adjectives of description, where they’re teaching vocabulary: straight, wavy, or curly hair.  The flashcard has women of different color on it, and before one of my friends can even ask her students about the hair, they shout out, “she is pretty!” (pointing to the white girl), “She’s so ugly!” (pointing to the black girl.)  Of course, my friend tried to talk to them about it, asking them why, but it is just thought of as fact here.  White =beautiful.  Black = Ugly.  This didn’t just happen in one class, it happened in several.

The flashcard that students described.

The flashcard that students described.

Another story.  An ETA (English teaching Assistant) on the island of Lombok, had a similar situation teaching her high schoolers using large photographs sent by the U.S. Embassy portraying our multicultural country.  She was using the photographs to elicit conversation and language.  This is what she wrote in her blog:

“In a few pictures, to celebrate the diversity of America and all that jazz, there are black and white kids playing together, listening to a teacher read a story, or performing in a band. When I ask the students to describe these scenes, they point to the white girl and say, “She is white. She is beautiful. She has sexy lips,” and so on. Note: I did NOT teach them the word sexy and have tried to discourage its’ use in the past. Then, they point to the black girl. “She is negro. She is ugly. She is like Papua people.” In my last class today, the boys snickered, pointed at the black girl and said something in Sasak which Marisa sharply rebuked them for. It was obviously not a compliment.”

photo america photo america 2Here is a link to this ETA’s original blog:

http://irisinindonesia.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/miss-youre-so-beautiful/

Being an American (or British person) of color cannot be easy here.  My friends have to defend their “Americanness” when people say, no, you’re not American.  I was traveling with one of my friends here, who is Korean-American, when she was told (not asked) that she was Chinese.  No matter how many times she corrected the man, saying, No, “saya dari Amerika”, he kept insisting she was Chinese.  Now, granted, this guy was just a complete idiot, but there are so many people who cannot fathom that Americans aren’t all white blond or brunettes.  EVEN WHEN OUR PRESIDENT IS A MAN OF COLOR, it still seems to be an immense leap for some people to realize that not all Americans look like Taylor Swift.

I have heard from several other ETAs, some African-American, one Indian-American, about their host schools contacting Fulbright to request a white American for the next year.   Even though they had excellent relationships with their schools, and their students loved them, they couldn’t get over what a “real” American was supposed to look like.

One major discussion I have heard and had is whether or not this country is racist.  (I would like to ask which country isn’t racist.)  But I believe that yes, there is a great amount of racism at work here in Indonesia.  White (or light) skin is seen as more desirable, more beautiful.  The people of Papua (the furthest Eastern part of Indonesia), are much darker than other Indonesians and are very often the butt of jokes.  If you even say the word “Papua” there is a chorus of giggles and laughs.  Even when I taught describing places, and I gave my students examples of places they can describe: Jakarta, Bali, Papua… there are inevitable giggles when you say the word “Papua”.

Indonesia prides itself on being a tolerant, multicultural country.  In many ways it is, but there is still so much to improve.

All that being said, I am hesitant to portray myself as the ‘more educated Westerner’ who wants to teach Indonesia how to not be racist.  It does not require saying how racist the United States’ past is, and how racism still pervades our institutions and society.  No, it is not overt “She is ugly because she is black”, racism.  It is the racism that sees children of color in worse schools, in poorer neighborhoods, and African-American men being grossly over-represented in the country’s criminal justice system.  I know my country is not any better than others.  There is a lot of work to do across the world, but slowly and surely, things can and do change.

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Visiting Aceh

Last week, I visited the Western most part of Indonesia—Aceh province.  My friend, Josh, is the Fellow who was placed in Banda Aceh (the capital of Aceh), and another Fellow, Jen, and I went up to do a two-day seminar/workshop series on teaching reading.

Aceh is a fascinating place.  It was the one part of Indonesia the Dutch colonizers could not control; and once Indonesia became an independent country, the Acehnese separatist movement fought for independence from the rest of Indonesia.  There was still a civil war going on when the deadly 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami struck.  Over 170,000 Indonesians were killed or lost—Aceh was pummeled.  Following the devastating tsunami, a peace agreement was made between the Free Aceh Movement and the Indonesian government.  Part of that was that Aceh has been granted status as a special territory, not a province run through the Indonesian central government.  This allows them a certain amount of autonomy.  Aceh is the only region in Indonesia under Sharia law—Islamic law.  There is a religious police force, to enforce the Islamic laws.

Of course this is a seriously simplified version of what Aceh is, from someone who is clearly not an expert.  Knowing what I thought I knew before going to Aceh, I would say that I was a little bit apprehensive.  The idea of Sharia Law, the strict religious conservatism that exists in Aceh, made me wary of standing out.  I was told by Josh that Jen and I didn’t need to cover our heads; although if we had gone to a pesantren (an Islamic boarding school) where Josh has done a lot of outreach, we would have needed to.

I didn’t know what to expect, really, but I was very pleasantly surprised.  Flying into Aceh rivaled flying into the island of Flores.  It has a beautiful coastline, with mountains nearby, and it was an overcast day (my favorite).  Our drive from the airport to our hotel was really beautiful.  At one point, we passed a huge cemetery, and Josh told us that it was one of the Tsunami cemeteries. It was bizarre to be somewhere where such a tragic event had taken place not so long ago.

We had dinner that night at one of Josh’s favorite places—with typical Acehnese food—kind of a fried chicken with sautéed leaves (yes, leaves) around it.  The leaves were crispy and pretty tasty too! You kind of felt like you were foraging for food….not that foraging usually leads to fried chicken. (Unfortunately).

Foraging

Foraging, Jen looks scared.

We also got to meet one of Josh’s friends, Rina, who was one of the coolest women I’ve met in Indonesia. She works for the World Bank, and spent 5 years in Washington D.C., as well as a year in East Timor.

Lunch with Rina and her sister

Lunch with Rina and her sister

Some seriously bad avocado juice

Some seriously bad avocado juice

One thing I noticed that night, and then for the rest of our time there, was how everything shuts down at the call to prayer.   In Palembang, around 5pm you do hear the evening call to prayer—called the Maghrib, but people generally carry on with their business.  Yes, many do pray, but it isn’t necessarily an immediate, ‘must be in the mosque at this moment’ thing.  In Aceh, we were sitting in a restaurant, and the restaurant began shutting its door on us, while we were inside, in preparation for maghrib.  Apparently everyone had to be inside, praying, at that time.  Now, I understand that in Islam, maghrib is the time for the evening prayer, but I just wasn’t used to such a strict enforcement of it.  I was told that sometimes there are religious police who drive around to make sure people are in the mosque at this time.  I don’t want to seem like I am judging here; I am only observing a different atmosphere from the other parts of Indonesia I have traveled through.  Aceh is known for being much more religious, and it is actually where Islam entered Indonesia.  You have to schedule your day around the prayer times, instead of scheduling prayer times around your day.

Another thing I learned (although I think I had heard this before…) is that if a girl is on her period, she doesn’t have to pray, because she is “dirty”.  Hmmm, seems like an excuse I would have used a lot growing up.  “Sorry, mom, I can’t go to mass today… ya know…”

We arrived Saturday night, and had all day Sunday to hang out before doing some work on Monday and Tuesday.  So Sunday, Josh rented two motorcycles for him and Jen to drive (I rode), and we drove out to the beach.  It was a beautiful drive, and Josh pointed out some of the sights.  As we got closer to the beach, there were more tsunami-related sites.  We drove through a village that had Turkish flag symbols on the front of each house; the Turkish government had donated money and had an entire village rebuilt after it had been wiped out by the tsunami.  The mosque is still being built now.

Driving to the beach

Driving to the beach

Driving to the Beach

Driving to the Beach

Jen driving like a bad***

Jen driving like a bad***

Driving to the beach

Driving to the beach

Entrance to village rebuilt by Turkey

Entrance to village rebuilt by Turkey

One of the houses, with the Turkish flag

One of the houses, with the Turkish flag

The mosque, still under construction

The mosque, still under construction

The beach itself was beautiful. The waves were the strongest, most intense waves I’ve ever seen.  Even if I had worn my bathing suit, I don’t think I would have gotten in the water.  (Also, you don’t see too many people in bathing suits….I was surprised to see guys just running straight in fully clothed, jeans, t-shirts and all.) It was an overcast day, but there were still a number of people out.  A lot of younger people were there, boys and girls, who of course came by to have their photo taken with us.  Some asked, while others preferred the sneaky way of standing near us and posing without actually asking.  We decided to pose for our own photos while we were there.

Beach!

Beach!

Taking a photo of a girl who is taking a photo of US

Taking a photo of a girl who is taking a photo of US

Photo shoot

Photo shoot

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Monday and Tuesday we led workshops about teaching reading.  We led parallel sessions on Monday, and then on Tuesday we gave some short presentations.  The participants were really wonderful—they were really engaged and interested.  I met a few who had studied in the United States.  After the tsunami, there were more programs set up to benefit the Acehnese, so I met some Indonesian teachers who had studied in the US as well as an American guy who was the 4th or 5th on a program to come teach in Aceh.  Some of the participants came from villages hours away, and at least one even came from a remote island off the coast.

Workshopping

Workshopping

Jen giving a presentation

Jen giving a presentation

Representin

Representin

One night, Jen and I experienced a motorized becak!  I love taking becaks in Palembang (pedi-cab).  But in Aceh they were like big sidecars–attached to motorcycles.  It really is the only way to travel.

In our motorized becak

In our motorized becak

On our last night, we hung out with Rina again, and she took us shopping for oleh-oleh.  (souvenirs).  Another thing about Aceh–best oleh oleh!  Afterwards, we chased down the sunset.  We tried to get to the beach, but one of the roads was closed (possibly due to prayer time), but Rina found an amazing spot we could watch it set.

Sunset in Banda Aceh

Sunset in Banda Aceh

Josh, Rina, and Jen

Josh, Rina, and Jen

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Fishermen checking their nets

Fishermen checking their nets

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One thing that struck me as we met more people around Banda Aceh is that it was hard to meet anyone who hadn’t been affected.  There were so many stories of, “Oh yeah, his wife’s entire family was killed,” or “We thought we were going to die, so we all ran to the mosque…”  I can’t imagine what such an event must do to a community—or even larger, a whole region.

Aceh is such a distinct, unique part of Indonesia.  I’m really glad I was able to see it.   It’s a beautiful region.  After hearing stories and learning more about their history, it is clear that the Acehnese are nothing if not resilient.

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Being Profesh

As many of my blogs are about my travels and trips and sometimes day-to-day annoyances/observations, I thought I’d talk a bit about my more professional moments. (With a few asides).

Here, at my school—IAIN (Insitut Agama Islam Negeri- State Institute of Islamic Studies), I am known to the students and faculty as “Miss Dee”.  In Indonesia, people are called by their first name—sometimes they don’t have a last name.  But always with a term of respect before, “Pak, Ibu” or if you’re an English teacher “Mrs. or Mr.”   Most people on campus DO realize that I am a ‘Miss’, not a “mister”, so that is a victory in my book.

(Aside 1):  Speaking of Miss/Mrs/Mr., the other day, my colleague, Senior Fellow Michael Kelley came to IAIN to visit and gave a presentation.  The formality before any presentation is sometimes annoying.  There is so much pomp and circumstance for even a simple presentation.  So the Rector of IAIN (like a university president) gave a short speech before Michael spoke, and as usual, referred to me, being the Fellow at IAIN.  It was in Indonesian, and yet I caught “masih” and “sendiri” (still single) in there.  I thought he was explaining his use of “miss” instead of “mrs” (which is very important here).  I found out later from Michael (who is fluent in Bahasa Indonesia) that it was in fact, a joke about another teacher who is also, still single.  Very professional, no?

And yet, your marital status is fair game here.  It’s up for discussion.  It is a common question you are asked within minutes of meeting someone.   You quickly learn not to be offended by it (or you try).  People want you to be married.  I quickly assure people that 26 is ‘masih muda’ (still young) in the US, although here you’re practically an old maid.

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The Rector, next to my boss, Eran. This wasn’t the time he informed everyone I am still single, but you get the picture.

Senior Fellow Michael Kelley visiting IAIN

Senior Fellow Michael Kelley visiting IAIN

 

Back to being profesh.

My classes this semester are amazing.  All two of them.  (The others didn’t quite pan out)….

I’m teaching two Speaking 2 classes,  so my students are second semester, English Dept students.  This means that they are way more eager than my students from last semester who were too frightened to even talk to me about their weekend.  Because they’re speaking classes, the goal is (duh) speaking.  So doing drama activities is possible and having a loud, interactive class is a weekly occurrence.  Yippee!  However, it is a challenge sometimes with a class of around 40 students.  40 students having conversations can be rather deafening.

The rooms I teach in are in a new building, created for the English and Arabic departments, and each is equipped with an air conditioner AND an LCD projector.  However, (get this), actually having POWER to run these things is beyond the budget of this Institute.  Hmmmm…. (I’m not bitter. Okay just a little).  I leave my (AC’d) office in another building, and the fresh air is nice; I enter the classrooms of the building where I teach, and almost immediately, the sweat begins to drip.  I look around at the poor students, who all have fans out—or pieces of paper used as fans—and our weekly routine is to complain about how hot it is.

That being said, they’re troopers, and they don’t let it get them down.  This semester, I am happy to feel really energized by my classes.  We’ve done a lot of interactive activities, and I have a facebook group set up for each class where they can respond to questions I pose or submit their ‘homework’ (asking each other questions about the topic we are discussing).

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Some students showing off their timelines which they used to discuss past events in their lives.

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Students performing skits. I was playing the silent (except for some grunts) role of Frankenstein’s monster.

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Students acting out their midterm exam– a skit they wrote and performed for the class.

One of the group's midterm skit.  Best ending EVER.  "They all, cuddle.  End."

One of the group’s midterm skit. Best ending EVER. “They all, cuddle. End.”

 

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Most of one of my speaking classes.

 

A lot of what I’ve done these past eight months is present at conferences or helped run workshops.  (And I’ve got two more months to go!)  This makes me sound very professional, and it has been great experience for me.  When we started here, our boss told us it was ‘very hard to fail’ in Indonesia.  It’s pretty true—most people assume because you are a native speaker, you know best.  A lot of basics that we learn doing our Master’s are a bit revolutionary here.  The concept of student-centered teaching and using communicative activities to teach English are often not implemented in schools.  Students may be able to take a test in English and do okay, but often can’t have a real conversation.  Of course, this is the struggle of all language teaching outside the country where it is spoken.

One conference I attended (but didn’t present at), was here in Palembang.  Apparently I was asked, but I never got the message—I was obviously devastated. Ha.  But my boss—the Regional English Language Officer, Eran, was able to come and give a keynote speech.  The Governor of South Sumatra was a co-sponsor of the conference, and although he didn’t attend the conference, he invited the participants to his house (mansion) for dinner that evening.  It was a real swanky affair, and leading up to the big speeches and all, the native speakers (me, Eran, and three representatives from Pearson) posed for about a BILLION photos with the participants.  Oy.

(Aside 2)  One tradition that I had heard of in Indonesia, but haven’t (yet) been forced to participate in, is being asked to sing a song when at a gathering, wedding, conference, etc.  We were told at orientation (half-jokingly) to have a ‘go-to’ song in case you were suddenly thrust on stage.  I never paid much attention, I figured I could worm my way out of it if it ever happened.  Luckily it still hasn’t, but that night at the Governor’s house, it happened to my boss.  (And I’m sure not for the first time).  The governor made a long speech about how great he is, and also about English, and then he said, “I’d like to close, with a song.”  And he did.  He sang “what a wonderful world” by Louis Armstrong.  It was pretty amusing—mostly because he is the Governor!  Imagine some politician in the USA doing that!   He wasn’t half bad either.  So after that, the MC asked the other keynote speaker (from Pearson) to sing.  He was a British guy, and he sang…something. Can’t remember.  And of course, that left the other ‘big-wig’ –Eran.  Well, he totally blew the crowd away with a stirring rendition of “Yesterday” by the Beatles.  I was dying.   He’s a laid-back guy from California.  It was so funny to see him on stage singing his heart out, especially because he was really GOOD!  I was told by my friend Jon that when he was put in a similar situation, he sang the national anthem, and another Fellow, Michael, sang On Top of Spaghetti!  I don’t know what my go-to would be, but I guess I’ve only got two more months.  I think I’ll get through fine.

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The governor of South Sumatra. Before he wows us with “What a Wonderful World”

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Eran singing “yesterday” daaaaaayum well. (Also, notice the photo of him on the poster behind him, wearing the same shirt!)

I’ve been a keynote speaker at a conference on the island of Bangka, along with my friend Autumn.  Even typing that, (I’ve been a keynote speaker), I realize another thing my boss told us is true.  It is easy to get a big head in Indonesia.  It’s easy to think you’re awesome.  (I mean, obviously I am, but really.)  You walk down the street, and people look at you like you’re a movie star, they shout out hello.  They ask to have their photo with you.  (Not only young people, older people want their photo with you too).  They value your thoughts, opinions, and ideas (simply because you’re a native speaker).  For all they know, I don’t know the first thing about ___________, and yet they ask.  I’ve been asked to write a foreword for an Introductory Linguistics book.  Does it matter that I only studied Intro to Linguistics?  Nah.  I’ve been asked to edit an entire book of proceedings from an International conference.  (It is painful).  When I speak (or any of my colleagues/ friends speak), people think we have all the answers.  “How do I motivate my students?”  That is the most common question we get from Indonesian English teachers.   Coming to Indonesia has certainly been a confidence booster career-wise.  Leading professional development and presenting at conferences is something I would be much more nervous doing back in the US.  That being said, I do feel that often we do have a lot to offer teachers here, whether it’s just suggesting arranging a classroom differently or providing some useful activities to encourage speaking.   However, I know that there is much I can learn from some of the teachers I’ve met here.  I think it is easy to think the native speaker knows best, when in fact, teachers here have more to offer than they think.

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Cross Cultural Communication Conference in Malang with about half the Fellow group! (more on this later)

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Bein mega profesh

Keynoting it up in Bangka

Keynoting it up in Bangka

 

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Teacher workshop in Yogyakarta. Bad teacher on her cell phone in the background.haaa.

It has been a great eight months of growing professionally in a pretty low-stress environment.  Two more months to go, and in May I’m going to take a swing at planning a presentation/workshop at my school, since I’ve been jetting around the country to help at friends’ events.   Stay tuned.

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Embracing the “HELLO MISTER!”s

I was reflecting with my friends Tabitha and Holly while recently in Yogyakarta, about how blogs about all our incredible trips and experiences having fun by beaches are not nearly as interesting to folks back home as the random, day-to-day blogs.  Of course I love writing about how much fun I had traveling around Indonesia, but lots of people go on vacations—I am living here every day, having not nearly as carefree a life as my trips make it seem.  That being said, my life is incredibly low-stress, and actually, it’s really good.  Not to brag or anything…

On my way to school, I pass the hotel where I stayed the first week I was in Indonesia—before my orientation.  I was picked up from the airport, after two days of travel and many plane rides, and brought to Hotel Anugerah.  It is funny to consider how I felt when I was there, and how I feel now.  I wish I could go back and tell that girl hiding in her hotel room that Palembang isn’t as bad as it looks.  (Sorry to anyone from Palembang)!

Hotel Anugerah (and yes, I wonder if they placed me there for the McDonalds downstaris?

Hotel Anugerah (and yes, I wonder if they placed me there for the McDonalds downstaris?

My first impressions of Palembang were: busy, crowded, industrial, (a teensy bit smelly—although I might have been biased by the Lonely Planet I read before), and well, just completely foreign.  I have traveled a bit—I’ve been around Europe—more so the Eastern part, but this was the first place I visited where I stuck out like a sore thumb.  I was (am) hyper-aware of the stares, the nudges and pointing fingers, and of course, the calls of “hello mister!”  As I’ve said before, the feeling of being constantly watched, gawked at, and stared at, does not by any means make me feel unsafe (usually)—it’s more just an uncomfortable feeling that people are judging you by what they see.

Many people want to take their photo with me, which is something I found charming and fun at first, and now I have started wishing I wore a hijab so I could blend in more.   One time, I was running at Kambang Iwak last week (a pond/park with a track around it), and a 15-16 year old school girl stopped me, mid-run, sweaty, beet-red, panting, to request a photo.  Seriously?!  Sometimes I feel seriously annoyed and even to the point of completely ignoring people, but I guess it’s true what they say about exercise: those endorphins really do kick into gear and make you happier, so I gladly stopped running and took a sweaty, horrible picture with this girl.  Later on that same run, a boy started running alongside me, and asking me questions.  Again, sometimes I choose to ignore people (when I’m feeling grumpy), but I just took out my headphones and answered his many questions, “where are you from?” “Where do you live?” “How old are you?” etc.  It is nice to have someone to run with sometimes!

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It’s definitely not this crowded when I go running!

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Another time, my friend Calum and I decided to go the Pasar 16 (pasar is Indonesian for market)—this place is a humongous maze of stalls in a massive building alongside the Musi River.  It’s set up so you  go up and down to different floors, with each turn spitting you out in another area—Ibus (women) selling produce, clothes, Tupperware—basically anything you could want.  Calum was on the hunt for some shoes, realizing he was getting ripped off at the Malls, we went to the market.  This in itself is an experience.  It only took me 5 months to try it, but I don’t think I was brave enough at the beginning.  It’s knowingly throwing yourself into a situation where hundreds of people are around—hundreds of people who maybe have never seen an orang bule (white person).  We tried a few stalls and tried to haggle—Calum doesn’t like haggling—I love it.  I think it’s so fun when they realize you can speak enough Indonesian to not get ripped off.  And yet, there is still the possibility you are getting ripped off.  But we had wandered through a few different levels and areas of the huge market, and we came across three high school aged kids in uniforms watching us, and then one of the boys starts in great English, “Can I help you all with anything?  You might get a bad price because you’re white.”  We started talking to him, and he told us his English was good because he goes to this place called the Chit Chat Corner, where there are a few Westerners working who speak English with kids.  He and his two friends accompanied us to a few more spots in the market, and reassured us that Calum wasn’t getting ripped off.  They were really sweet, and it was fun to talk to them.  Afterwards, we went out to the main road and took the obligatory few photos with them.  Then we parted ways.  It is silly, but going to the largest market in Palembang felt like a huge accomplishment for me.  You know you’ve put yourself seriously far out of your comfort zone if going to a market is a big step.

Pasar 16 from afar

Pasar 16 from afar

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New friends helping Calum buy some shoes

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Pasar 16

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Our lovely guides

Our lovely guides

Another thing I was way too scared to try when I first arrived in Palembang is the ‘public transport’.  I should probably devote an entire blog to this subject…we’ll see.   The most hilarious, and the scariest form is the Bus Kota.  City bus.  My friend Femmy told me an American Fulbright ETA who was here a few years ago had dubbed it the “buskotequa”–like discotec.  That is because these old buses, which look like they are just another few miles from falling apart completely, blast crazy loud, thumping house music out of their speakers, and have young guys hanging out the back, yelling at passers-by to get on the bus.  They sound like a bad college party on wheels.   The guy’s job is to round up more people to ride this bus.  I had seen them all over the place, usually those guys hanging out the back yell at me, and I avoid eye contact.  However, I had never been brave enough to ride the buses, most importantly because I have no idea where they go.  There is no map, no route that I know of.  You just have to know.  Or ask.  But when I ask questions usually people respond way too quickly for me to understand.  So I’ve just avoided the buskotec.   UNTIL our market day.  I feel much braver when I am with other people, so Calum suggested we try to take one back to his school, even though he didn’t know if it went there.  Ridiculous as it may sound, taking a bus was actually a little nerve-racking.  My students and acquaintances here say, “Miss, don’t take the city buses!  They are dangerous. There are robbers.”  So, of course I got on clutching my bag, and made Calum shove over so I didn’t have to sit near any of those robbers they spoke of.  However, who’da thunk, the people on the bus seemed normal enough to me!  Just regular people going about their business.  Until a 3 piece band boarded and started singing to everyone.  Sometimes I feel like I don’t even live in reality.  Is this normal?  I mean, we have buskers on streets and they are on the NYC subway and stuff sometimes, so I guess it’s not that strange, but it’s still funny to me.

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Buscotec–although its ‘conductor’ (guy hanging out the back) was actually walking in front, trying to get passengers

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Serenading us on the bus

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Don’t forget the drumbeat

Sometimes getting off your butt and out of the house is the hardest thing—even in the US where there is much less to be nervous about.  Walking to the post office is another adventure I have had a few times now.  Again, in what universe should walking somewhere be a big deal?  Yet I tell people I walked from my house to the main post office near Ampera Bridge and they gasp, “why?!”  First off, it is bloody hot here.  I don’t care what they say, dry season, rainy season, it is just the same: flippin HOT. (I will regret those words when the dry season is upon us again and I can’t breathe).  So that means walking places is a little dumb.  Second, sidewalks are a rarity.  I always think of Kelly Clarkson’s song about straying too far from the sidewalk, and my step-dad’s hilarious  joke about how in our county (Floyd) we don’t have sidewalks so what then? (I think there was more to that joke…) Anyway, no sidewalks + INSANE driving on motorcycles, cars, and buscotecs means walking around Palembang is a little bit dangerous, not to mention, just not done.  People don’t walk much if they can help it. Most have motorcycles or use angkots, buses, etc.  However, sometimes you just feel like you need a walk.  So I walk to the post office.  If you are my facebook friend, you saw the stats of last week’s adventure:

And today on my 25 minute walk from home to the post office & back–the totals:
17 “Hello misterrrr!!”s
6 “hello miss!!”s
3 “how are youuu?!”s
2 “BULE!!”s
1 “what are you doing?!”
and a low show of just 1 “I LOVE YOU!!”

Some boys excited to see a foreigner. HELLO MISTER!

Some boys excited to see a foreigner. HELLO MISTER!

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Walking to the post office

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Some stares from the local becak drivers

So this is what walking places involves: you must be okay with the fact that everyone will be looking at you, and many of them will want to shout out to you.  Reflecting on it, this something I both LOVE and at times strongly dislike about Indonesia.  There is a need to call out and talk to you because you’re a foreigner.  I love it, because usually you can feel the warmth of the people, who are just so excited to be speaking to a foreigner, and when it’s a toothless old becak driver, it’s rather amusing and endearing.  Other times, it’s just frustrating if you want to walk down the street to be yelled at by a young guy on a bus, who actually looks like he is compelled to shout out “BULE” (pronounced boo-lay & meaning foreigner with white skin) when he sees you.  It’s like something comes over them, and they actually can’t keep that word inside.  We used to play a game on the high school band bus where we’d yell out “COW” every time we’d pass them.  Upon reflection, we were seriously lame; yet, that’s what it’s like sometimes here.  People just have to yell it out, or it’s not real or something!  An American friend here in Palembang suggested when people yell out “BULE!” (which technically could be construed as a negative word although I don’t think it is often meant so), that I should yell back “DI MANA?!”  (WHERE?!)  I’ve tried it a few times, and it seriously amuses me, and that’s all that matters anyway.

 I think this is all a matter of your attitude though; when I tell myself that I think it’s funny and amusing, it really and truly is funny and amusing.  But if I go outside thinking, “if anyone yells at me I’m just going to scowl”, then everyone will annoy me.

I do think I’ll miss the call of “hello mister”, because no matter what, that is just funny.  I am not worried that they think I’m a man, I know it’s just the only phrase they probably know in English.  However, that hasn’t stopped me from trying my friend Holly’s trick of yelling back to the man (it’s almost always a man) “HELLO IBU!”  (Hello Ma’am.)  That stumps em.

"Hello Mister!"

“Hello Mister!”

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Gallivanting round the Gilis

Following Bali, Holly and I parted ways with Autumn, and caught a ferry to the Gili Islands.   The Gilis are these beautiful little islands off the coast of Lombok—there are 3 main ones; Gili Trawangan, Gili Air, and Gili Meno.

The ferry dropped us on the beach—no harbor or anything, you just had to jump off the boat into the water and they passed luggage out in an assembly line type way.  The view was incredible.  You are on this island looking across the water to the island of Lombok, with its mountains right in front of you.

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These little droplets of heaven (Gili Islands) were INCREDIBLE.  First, there are no cars or motorcycles allowed on the islands, only horse-drawn buggies.  After being in traffic congested cities around Indonesia, this is such a luxury.  Gili T—the biggest one, is kind of like a mini-Bali in that it attracts loads of tourists and has a lot of Western food options.  However, they are Muslim islands, not Hindu, so you had to make sure you were respectful and not walking around in bikini, etc.  It was also strange to hear the call to prayer really loudly from our guesthouse, after not having heard it for a while in Tana Toraja or Bali.  It was kind of a signal we’d be back to reality soon enough.

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I’m now going to quote from my journal that I kept while there:

“Gili T was like a shock to the system.  It kind of felt like Spring Break in Cancun (but not quite so wild)—just loads of young, pretty people in swimsuits.”  There were so many tourists, and I guess it was what the beaches of Bali would be like perhaps.

Holly and I found western food again for dinner and ended up at an Irish bar called Tir na nog.  To be honest, it couldn’t qualify as all that Irish considering it was on a tropical island beach, with sand for the floor and the worst club music ever blasting out of the speakers.  HOWEVER, it was called Tir na nog, and so I was sold.  There was a massive dance party going on our first night, and it was like watching girls on spring break.  Very strange in Indonesia.  We talked to some people we had met earlier that day, aaand Holly and I MIGHT have danced on the table to Gangnam Style.  It was necessary.  No one else seemed to understand the importance of this song (except maybe the barmen).

The next day (Valentine’s Day!)  our wonderful friend Christen joined us!  She lives on Lombok, so it’s a short trip away for her.  We had a lovely day of relaxing on the beach, drinking banana juices, and lazing about basically.  For our romantic Valentine’s dinner, we had a bit of trouble finding a place to eat (or more honestly, a place with affordable wine and good seating), and when we finally found it, it began to rain.  But we didn’t let THAT stop us from having a great night.

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We of course ended up back at Tir na nog, where things were a bit calmer than the previous night.  We settled in at the bar and talked to our friends from the day before.  The barmen—cute, young Indonesian guys were pretty funny entertaining us.  One of them started making roses out of paper napkins and handing them to me from across the bar.  As it was Valentine’s Day, and I’m a complete sap, I totally ate it up.  Now don’t get me wrong, the kid looked about 18, so there was no hanky panky going on, but it was pretty funny.  Turned out he was 24, and when he found out I was 26, he didn’t hold in his shock, “wow! Old!! Ha ha!”  Hilarious!

Holly and I had another boogie to Gangnam Style, and Christen and I amused ourselves by talking to the flower-making barman.

Best Valentines dates I've had!

Best Valentines dates I’ve had!

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This romancer making my bouquet

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The next day we headed to Gili Air—a much calmer version of Gili T.  There weren’t as many people, but it was perfect.  We checked into a cute cottage (minus A/C) with an awesome outdoor bathroom (although it only spouted salt water).  We received a welcome coconut from the workers on the property.  We found the most amazing restaurant that made incredible bruschetta and we may or may not have had about 6 plates of it by the time we left.

I feel like my posts are all about food.  I can’t help it.  In Bali/Gilis our minds were dominated by thoughts of food.

We set up camp at this restaurant on loungey chairs, and some Paks came by selling sarongs and pearls, and we indulged AGAIN.

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This Pak was a pretty good salesman. He would end up with me & Holly both buying a sarong from him.

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I took the snorkel mask out a ways and saw a giant turtle—it was SOOOOOOO COOL! I followed him for a ways—it was SUCH an amazing sight.  It really made me want to try diving, but I just don’t want to fork over all that money!  And we needed more time to do something like that.  Snorkeling sufficed.  And sitting on the beach watching kids make boats was also pretty amusing.

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After our chill lovely sunny afternoon, Christen & I went to yoga and it was a great 1 ½ hours.  Felt good to do some exercise after a while!

We took a ferry off of Gili Air to go to Lombok (where Christen lives), and on the ferry ride across the sea—we saw a flippin CYCLONE in the distance!  Most of the other passengers were people from Lombok who just go to the Gilis for the day to work, and even they looked a little alarmed, but they told us not to worry.  Right!  Well, right as we got back to land, the heavens opened up.  Poor Christen had to drive her motorcycle back to Mataram (her city), while Holly and I got a taxi.

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The other passengers seem a bit concerned by that cyclone in the distance too

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CYCLONE!

these girls aren't worried about that cyclone

these girls aren’t worried about that cyclone

Lombok was really cool, although I haven’t seen as much as I should.  Christen and I explored one day, and I wore her insanely heavy, huge helmet—I felt like my head weighed 20 pounds.  It is always really interesting to see where other people live, and how their lives/cities compare to your own.  Mataram was much calmer than Palembang, and being so close to the beach is lovely.

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The helmet that weighs 25 pounds

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And alas, over a month of travel around Indonesia came to an end in Mataram, Lombok.

Indonesia is an incredibly beautiful, diverse country.  I’d completely recommend traveling here.  Do it!

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GUUUUUUUSTY!!!!!!!!!! TAKE ME BACK TO BALI!

When I said I was moving to Indonesia, the few people who actually had heard of it/knew something about it said, “oh, Bali?! Eat, Pray, Love?!”    Alas, no, I do not live in Bali, but yes, it is as wonderful as they say.  Bali is what most people around the world think of when they think of Indonesia, and yet it couldn’t be more different from the rest of this massive country I live in.  It is like this oasis of delicious food, drinks, art, music, and shopping.  Completely tourist driven, yet in the off-season of February (when we were there), it was still pretty calm and at times felt even a bit deserted.  We could wear whatever we wanted without feeling like we were being offensive.  This might seem trivial, but in SUCH a hot country, it really is amazing to be able to walk around in shorts and a tank-top without worrying.

I did not experience the wild, beachy, party part of Bali.  My friend Holly and I only went to Ubud, because she had been to Kuta and the beachy parts, and I frankly didn’t really have much of an interest in those parts.  (We had a few beaches waiting for us on the Gilis after Bali anyway).

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Another reason people know of Bali is because of “Eat, Pray, Love”, which has spurred even more tourism around the area.  Well we did at least one of those verbs incredibly well—EAT.

Now, I don’t want to complain about Indonesian food too much, because I do love Indonesia, buuuuuut I’m going to anyway.  If I have to look at one more plate of rice and some animal part one more time…. No, but really, Holly and my trip revolved around what we dubbed “feeding time”.  So many OPTIONS.  And, as it is a majority Hindu island, there was pork!

To rewind a bit, we landed in Bali from Makassar, where Holly had phoned a guesthouse in a guidebook to see if we could book a room.  The guy on the other end, soon to be our famous ‘GUSTY!’  was somewhat incomprehensible.  However, she figured out that he promised to pick us up at the airport and drive us the 2ish hours to Ubud.  When we arrived, we were greeted by a jumping-bean of a guy, frantically waving his arms in greeting with a sign that read “Hooly”.  We took it as a good sign that he and his assistant were so happy to see us.

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Holly & Gusty’s assistant-trainee guy.

The drive to our guesthouse confirmed our suspicions. Gusty was nuts. And completely adorable.  He talked a mile a minute, and had so many stories to tell us.

(The guesthouse is right beside the monkey forest).  One of Gusty’s nuggets:    “Sometimes monkeys bring me good luck and sometimes bring me bad luck”.

‘what do you mean?’ we asked.

“Good luck is when the guests say, ‘GUSTY! Can I stay here 3 more nights?! The monkeys are so cool!!! Bad luck, the guests say, ‘GUSTY I can’t take the monkeys anymore! Where is my bathing suit?!’ “

He informed us how some guests will complain to him about their stay.  When we inquired as to their reasoning, he told us.  “Sometimes we forget to warn them about the monkeys.  The monkeys will steal your bikinis and bras.”  Then, out of the blue, he shouts out, “GUUUUSTY!!! WHERE IS MY BUG SPRAY?!” and completely deadpan, answers himself, “in the forest.”

If this whole Gusty story is complete nonsense to you, too bad,  I must write it mostly for Holly and I to always remember this man who made our trip so much more hilarious.

Our guesthouse was so fun.  We loved our first room and its balcony overlooking the courtyard and pool, but the heat was pretty unbearable.  Air conditioning really is necessary sometimes.  So we moved to another room, with a balcony, but not as wonderful a balcony.  HOWEVER, we were not constantly sweating.  A fair trade-off.  Our guesthouse was right up against the monkey forest, and so our view from the window the next morning included monkeys running across the roof of the next building and walking along telephone wires.   The mas’s (young guys) who worked at our guesthouse walked around in the mornings (when the monkeys are more active) with slingshots on ‘monkey patrol’.  They didn’t have anything IN the slingshots though, so it is ok.

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Monkey duty using a slingshot

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view from our balcony

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We got right to business with our feeding times.  We found a Cuban restaurant with amazing burritos and mojitos and settled in to the difficult 5 days ahead of us.

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Ubud has so many tours and activities available to its tourists.  There are cycling tours, jewelry-making classes, cooking classes, yoga studios, hikes, etc.  We had planned to do them ALL, but of course laziness got the best of us; however, our first day we really did accomplish a lot.

We paid to join a downhill cycling tour of the local countryside.  “Downhill” is key here.  There was very little exercise involved—there were moments of sheer terror when I wondered whether or not I could still really ride a bicycle, however.  It was a cool way to see the countryside of Bali and the villages and temples that are dotted around the island, but it was also a long day.  The cycling part of the day didn’t even start until around 1 or 2.  That morning we got picked up from our guesthouse by the cycling tour guide, and we drove to a coffee plantation with the five other tourists.  (Canadian, Chinese, Dutch).  We walked through the coffee plantation and saw the plants growing, the civets caged up, the coffee being ground, and then we sampled a number of different coffees.  We tried Kopi Luwak (Civet coffe) which is made from the poo of civets.  Cat-poo-ccino as our hilarious tourguide punned.  It really just tasted like coffee to me.  We cycled through rice paddies and tried helping some women harvest it.  They were really sweet.

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A lot of Indonesians we met were super impressed (or were they?) by my Bahasa Indonesia which is funny because it really isn’t very good—or nearly as good as it should be.  But if you throw around a few topics and sentences they think you’re brilliant.  It does wonders for my ego.  That being said, I have caught them saying “woooow you speak Indonesian so well!” after you simply say “terima kasih” (thank you) which every tourist probably knows.  So actually it is probably just that Indonesian people want to make you feel good because they are just nice people.  I’ll take it.

Havin a chat with some Ibus

Havin a chat with some Ibus

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After our first day, we got the best surprise EVER when we found that our friend, Autumn, was going to join us!  It was amazing.  We found the most amazing restaurant EVER called Taco Casa and it fulfilled all of our wildest Mexican food dreams.  Mexican food is probably my favorite food, and it is impossible to find in Palembang or most places really. So we were basically like three little kids unleashed in a candy shop.  We got really over-excited and were that annoying group of girls, but that’s okay.  It’s fun to be ‘those people’ sometimes.

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Having Autumn helped motivate Holly and I to get off our bums and do something—and she had been to Ubud before, so she helped us gather the courage to go into the Monkey Forest.  We had heard about people getting flip flops stolen, having monkeys fall onto their heads, having monkeys grab at jewelry, and even getting a bit of a smooch from one and promptly becoming quite ill.  SO, we were a little nervous to go in.  We didn’t buy any bananas at the entrance, because the little buggers are smart enough to latch onto your bag if you’ve got bananas in there.  However, it didn’t take too long before I decided I REALLY needed a monkey on my head.  I paid a Bapak to help us get some monkey-love, and the result was a range of hilarious photos.

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We also did a silver jewelry-making workshop thing.  My pendant ended up looking like something I would have made in elementary school for my mom, and she would have loved it, because I made it.  And that is why I love it.  Because I made it.  I love Hand-related things obviously so once I get a chain I shall wear it with pride, even if it’s a bit of a Fat Hand.

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Our days of café-lounging, shopping, and hanging out with monkeys unfortunately had to end.  However, Holly and I (and our friend Tabitha) will be back with a vengeance in June to run a half-marathon and are hoping to see GUSTY and the monkeys again.

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Becording to me, Tana Toraja is Terrific!

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi

Tana Toraja is world famous for having its own incredibly unique culture—especially when it comes their rituals surrounding death.

A bigger group—seven of us, traveled to Tana Toraja together, but not before meeting up in Makassar, with 3 other Fellows who had just visited Tana Toraja.  We met up at Bu Liz’s house—one of our Senior Fellows.  We had the day to hang out because our bus didn’t leave until 9:30 that night. 

So to pass the time…we tried durian! Finally, I have tried durian.  Durian is the most famous fruit from Indonesia.  And let me tell you, I wasn’t missing out.  This stinkiest of stinky fruits is often seen on hotel and elevator signs with a big red slash through it (=NO DURIAN).  It is THAT stinky.  It smells like feet.  People say you either love it or you hate it (I’ve also heard it takes 3 times to like it).  Regardless, it’s all a lie!  After all the hype, I didn’t know what to expect other than eating stinky socks, so I have to report that it wasn’t as terrible as I’d expected, yet I would be happy not to eat it again.  The texture is something like custard, and (TMI) you can taste it the rest of the day.  They say the trick is to drink water out of the outer layer of the fruit after you eat it, and that way you won’t taste it for the rest of the day—so I did that.  However, that was yet another lie.  But we survived—and I wasn’t the only one who had been holding out this long.

I should mention, my students did bring a durian-juice/shake type thing to class when Conor was visiting, so technically we tried it then.  It was grosser in shake form. 

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Holly & Ron are ol pros with the durian

 

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a bit..chewy..

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Jen gives it a try

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That face means; “It’s not that bad, but I kind of want to spit it out!”

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hacking open the durian

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Autumn is especially excited at the prospect

We also decided we needed cream baths that afternoon.  I might need to devote an entire blog to cream baths.  I think that is what I will miss most when I leave.  It is not (as I first thought when invited by a girl here) an actual bath.  Nor does it exactly involve cream.  It’s basically a deep-conditioning treatment for your hair.  Every time I have one I’m reminded of Hugh Grant’s character in “About a Boy” who goes to the salon to have his “hair carefully disheveled.”  It feels that extravagant sometimes, yet at the price of about $5—it’s a bargain.  Having someone wash your hair, massage your head, rub conditioner into your hair (that smells of avocado, ginseng, chocolate, or a range of other ‘flavors!’), and then massage your shoulders and arms—holy moly.  Heaven.  So how did I know this would digress into a blog about cream baths?  Anyway, some of us are addicted; others had never tried this joyous tradition, so we went to the mall in Makassar before our bus left for Tana Toraja.  Unfortunately it wasn’t the best place to have your first cream bath, but we coped, and had luscious locks to get us through our harrowing night-bus journey.

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Christen & Jackie enjoying their creambaths

 

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Is she massaging? or resting? Kate’s face says: “make her stop”

 

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An assembly line of happiness

The bus.  Oooooh the bus.  It is a common mode of transportation to get up to Tana Toraja, which is pretty far out of the way from anything.  It takes about 8ish hours I believe, and we were traveling overnight.  We arrived at the bus station ‘just in time’, but of course, since it’s Indonesia, it actually didn’t leave for another hour after it was scheduled to.  The buses themselves appeared pretty great in terms of having room to spread out.  The seats reclined and they had a lot more room in between rows with kind of leg rests so you weren’t smushed.  However, upon entering, it was discovered that the bus had already been claimed by an army of bugs.  Some of us coped better than others… One of us had had a terrible experience with bedbugs at a guesthouse in the Gilis and so was convinced they were bedbugs that were going to eat us alive.  Other bugs included little cockroaches (not the big kind at least) and perhaps a spider or two in there? The little ‘bed bugs’ were the creepiest because we just didn’t know what they were.  It took some people a little longer to sit completely on the seat, and then we got our rain-jackets and scarves out to wrap ourselves up in protection.  We set in for a long night.  One notable occurrence through the night was a stop at the scariest hole of a bathroom ever.  It was this dungeon-like place under a building with spiders hanging from the ceiling, dirt floor, faded light bulbs, holes in the ground as toilets, dark corners with possible creepers and shadows.  Freeeeakyyy!  

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“get me the hell out of this bug infested bus!”

We arrived in Tana Toraja around 6am the following morning in a tired stupor.  We lumbered over to our hotel which was really nice (heavenly compared to the bus!).  Christen, Autumn, and I shared a jr suite. Sweet!  It had a big bed, table and chairs—like our own little apartment.

We hit the ground running and spent our first day with a hired tour guide who took us to a typical Torajan village that had amazing Torajan houses.  We looked at the wood carvings being made there, and most of us bought something. 

Our tour guide was kind of hilarious (without meaning to be) and most of us didn’t understand anything he said—but Christen—ever the devoted student—listened attentively, and so he directed most of his statements towards her.  One of our favorite lines was: “Becording to Torajan language _______” (Fill in the Torajan word).  He was rather endearing, attempting to teach us Torajan words when we couldn’t even understand his English words.

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“becording to torajan language, I am awesome” says our tour guide

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More about Toraja:

From the Lonely Planet guide: “A trip to Tana Toraja is like a cultural documentary brought to life.  Sweeping and elaborately painted houses with boat-shaped roofs dot terraced rice paddies where farmers work the fields alongside their doe-eyed buffalo…Life for the Toraja revolves around death, and their days are spent earning the money to send away their dead properly.”  Their Christian beliefs brought from the Dutch have combined with their animist beliefs surrounding death.

Funerals are incredibly important, and families will wait several years to save money after a family member dies.  They keep the body intact and people must buy water buffalo to sacrifice.  The more buffalo you can sacrifice, the better off your family is. 

In Toraja, they are used to tourists coming to view their ceremonies, and as a gift, we were told to buy cigarettes to give the hosts.   We attended a traditional funeral celebration (day 2 or 3).  The funerals are usually several days, and I think we saw it a day or two in.  We watched as a procession of relatives filed through the square.  It was a pretty bizarre experience, because we were basically just crashing someone’s funeral (Wedding Crashers anyone?)  It seemed somber, but not sad.  It was sunny, hot, there were probably a couple hundred people milling about.  The family sat in one covered area and boys walked around with tea and coffee.  There were maybe 10-12 other tourists there spread around taking photographs.  I didn’t go too camera crazy because I felt a bit strange about it.  Although they are used to it, it still felt a bit personal.  That being said, there were so many people there it couldn’t have been completely personal. 

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As we stood by, men walked through into the middle clearing, carrying large pigs, hung up by their hooves on bamboo sticks.  They plopped em down, while the pigs were squealing.  Yep, we knew what was going to happen.  They just left them there for a while during other things.  It wasn’t exactly a ceremony, in that no one spoke or preached.  People talked to each other, but we just took it all in.  We were led to another covered place to sit and brought tea and coffee.  I don’t think any of us knew what exactly it was that we were waiting for.  There are several vegetarians in our group, so we asked our guide when the sacrifices would begin (because we wanted to be gone), and he said “much later”.  So we believed him.  Fools.  They next brought in a huge water buffalo.  We got a bit nervous.  We asked him again, “can we please leave before they sacrifice the animals?”  I’m pretty sure he understood, and he nodded and assured us we would.  And yet…there they came, with their knives, and the slaughtering of the pigs began.  We were sitting in a position where we didn’t have to see if we looked away; but you could hear it.  Next, the water buffalo.  Much bigger. Much louder.  A few of our more tender-hearted veggies started to tear up, and it was really horrible to hear.  And of course I felt a bit guilty about being one of those meanies who eats meat.  It wasn’t as traumatic as it sounds really. It was weird, but it is their culture, and we know the meat gets eaten, the skins get used, and these animals had a good life.  When we wanted to leave, we had to walk by it, hopping over the stream of blood running down the mountain.  It’s reality.  It is important to remember that as an omnivore!  Needless to say, I had a vegetarian lunch that day.  (I don’t remember about dinner…might have been over it by then).

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After lunch, we went to another area where there were coffins raised along a cliff and bones piled in areas along the rocks.  Because Lonely Planet can sometimes do it better than I can, “High-class Toraja are entombed in cave graves or hanging graves in the steep cliffs, which are guarded over by tau tau (life-sized wooden effigies) carved in their image—you’ll find these eerie yet beautiful cliff cemeteries scattered throughout the region. “

The hanging graves were a bit creepy, and I think I had had my fill of skulls and bones in Kostnice—‘the bone church’ in the Czech Republic.  There were piles of bones along the walk we took up one of the cliffs.  I think we were all being respectful and good little tourists… but then…

When we were all walking down this mountain, a skull actually fell and bounced down the stairs past each of us, making a hollow, haunting sound. (Or as my friend Jackie noted—it sounded like a whiffle ball).  We all just looked at each other and were like “holy $%&@ did that just happen?!”  We looked to our guide (I thought he had done it for effect) but Jon was behind him, so it couldn’t have been him.  I don’t know where it came from, but it was CRAZY.  We high-tailed it out of there after that. 

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the very steps we were walking down when the skull tumbled past us

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That afternoon we got back to our hotel and we started a karaoke party in our hotel’s restaurant.  They guy on the keyboard was ready for any request and we had a grand ol time.  Goodbye Earl was one of my personal favs. We had passers-by peering in the door laughing at the crazy foreigners.  That might be the second thing I’ll miss most about Indonesia—karaoke culture. Love it. 

 

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Our adoring fan (s?)

The next day we went for a bumpy ride (terrible roads) up the mountain and visited a café about halfway up and had an awesome view with our tea or coffees.  Then we walked maybe two miles further up the mountain along a pretty calm road, passing through more Torajan villages and seeing more tombs along the way.  It was really beautiful walk.  There were spectacular views of the mountains and everything was so green—and it wasn’t your typical sweltering Indonesian weather.   We passed kids playing soccer and walking home from school.  We talked about the fact that for those kids, this is just normal.  The views, the beauty and everything are just part their regular lives.  Isolated perhaps, but beautiful.   We had lunch closer to the top and had another awesome view while we ate.  We were also harassed by cats.

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probably the best intro to a menu I’ve ever read

 

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Our night bus ride back to Makassar was much less traumatic.  I remember looking out the window at the stars and thinking I had never seen so many or such a wide open sky. 

We arrived at Makassar airport at 5am—with most of us not leaving until after noon (4PM for me & Holly), so we set up camp at the Starbucks, and completely took over a corner of the café with the seven of us and all our bags.  It was actually kind of fun, and I applied for a job and wrote a blog in my free time. 

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Thank you Starbucks

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Way too much fun. Gotta sleep

 

Bye to the island of Sulawesi—it’s been real!

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