Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Big One Version 2.0

All right, so I have definitely conceded the fact that I am not going to make it to all of the countries on my original itinerary (which is, in turn, an edited version of my original version of going from Singapore across Asia, Australia, and Europe, but that was when I thought I would buy my own ticket home so I would have all of July). I think it will be quite a long time before I return to this part of the world, if ever, so I want to do it right. I’m going to slow down my pace and see a bit more of each country in Southeast Asia rather than push on so hard to get over to Nepal, India, and Sri Lanka. In fact, I’m so confident I won’t make it to those places that I’ve packed my travel guides already.
But whatever, I can see myself finding someone interested in joining me for two months on a trip to India, no matter where I end up living. That will definitely happen so I’m not worried. Bring on more of Borneo!
New and Improved Itinerary:
December: Malaysia and Australia
January: Australia, East Timor, Indonesia
February: Indonesia, Singapore (for a wedding), Borneo
March: Borneo and Philippines
April: Philippines and Vietnam
May: Cambodia and Laos
June: Laos, Thailand, possibly Nepal? I do NOT want to go to Myanmar, I know that.
FLIGHT HOME FROM SINGAPORE=JUNE 30

Leia Mais…

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Justin said something this morning that really hit home: he was glad that ours is the type of friendship where you can go without seeing each other for a long time and still be able to pick back up where you left off when you finally do reconnect. And he’s right—that’s exactly what we have. It made me think of Erin Robbins and how she and I will just always be best friends, regardless of how long of a gap might go between our visits. Justin and I are both taking this as a good sign.


Another good sign, we managed to get to Kuala Lumpur without any problems! Nice bus, easy ride, and they even showed “The Gods Must Be Crazy II” on the bus (although I don’t think the Malaysians on the bus really picked up on all of the humor; Irene and I were basically the only ones laughing).

There is, however, an urgent matter to attend to: SHOPPING. Trust me, I hate shopping as much as the next guy (literally, I’m NOT girly in this respect), but there are some essentials I want to pick up here where it’s cheap, specifically rain gear and a new point and shoot camera. Since I’m only in the rainy season a couple of weeks a cheap jacket will suffice, but I will have to drop some coin on my camera, unfortunately. It’s a bit sad; my Sony CyberShot has been an all star these last 5 years or so and I’m sorry to see it go.

Anyway, we’re in KL and settled now and ready to just wander a bit. We hit Petaling Street market (several lanes of stalls where the men call out and try to entice you to buy “designer” purses, sunglasses and watches) to see what we can find. There are big barrels of roasting chestnuts, pirated DVDs, fruit stands selling only a few things I recognize, tiny teahouses with giant copper cisterns, and boatloads of tourists (many seemingly from the Middle East). It’s not really my scene and Irene and I aren’t finding what we need so we decide to head towards the Petronas Towers so Irene can see them again and we’ll try shopping there.

I cannot recommend the towers highly enough. I think they are two of the most beautiful buildings on Earth and it’s absolutely hypnotizing to stand at the bottom and look up. I have no idea how they managed to make the lights at the top so brilliantly, dazzlingly white that it makes the buildings look like cut diamonds. It was a nice chance to experiment with the panorama mode on the new CyberShot I bought in the mall under the Towers (Sony: well done, love my new camera already).

We went back to Petaling Street for a simple dinner and to let Irene try her first batch of roasted chestnuts (the guy who roasted them outside my condo in Singapore did a better job, unfortunately). We also had a nice cuppa at the little tea house we’d seen earlier. We had a few bowls of five flower tea, munched on chestnuts, planned what to do tomorrow, and basically just relaaaaxxxxed. Then we ended our night by watching the sixth Harry Potter movie on Justin’s computer (which only Irene managed to stay awake through, but I promise I meant to).

Even though this is the kind of day where it seems like nothing really happened it was still really enjoyable because I had such good company. I would have been a bit disappointed if it were just me, myself and I, but everything’s better with a friend, right? :)

Leia Mais…

Sunday, November 28, 2010

WOW. There is so much to do. There is so much to say to so many people and still so many things to see and pack and on and on and on. I’ve been catching sleep wherever I can get it: trains, staff meetings, taxis, etc.


TODAY I AM SUPPOSED TO LEAVE SINGAPORE AND SPEND SEVEN MONTHS TRAVELING ASIA. When I say this out loud it means nothing, but as I look around my empty condo and feel the weight of my bag and realize that I can’t call my friends because they’ve all left Singapore already

What I Am Leaving:

--Friends who are more like family: Miriam, Katie, Lauren, Nick, Louise, Keri, Tamsin, Will, Charlene, Yvette, Anne-Marie,

--The good: amazing people. My lovely colleagues at Pioneer: Intan, Diana, Stephen, Madam Santhi, Doreen, Mr. Jamal, Madam Sriwanty, Aida, Pooja, Grace, Kamisah. My sweet, sweet, students: I’ve been teaching sec 3 all year long and I loved laughing with them and showing them amazing things in history and hearing their questions and seeing their personalities shining out.

--The good: diversity. It was wonderful to see such a mix of races, religions, cultures, languages and identities in my classroom. I genuinely loved hearing about the differences in their lives and how they could work these to their advantage, rather than detriment. And of course to open their eyes to places/people/ideas they’d never heard of felt great, too.

--The bad: Everything about my job directly outside of the classroom. This was torture. I am not exaggerating when I saw I wonder how many years I’ve taken off my life due to lack of sleep, stress, and not taking care of myself because of work.

--The bad: Bitterness. Towards my school leaders, the government, my real estate agent, Singapore in general. I will never regret leaving and may never fully appreciate going, unfortunately.

BUT

What I Am Moving Towards:

--The good: Beauty. I plan to spend most of my time outdoors during my trip. I cannot wait to see the natural wonders of Southeast Asia. Hiking, mountain climbing, scuba diving, jungle trekking, driving motorbikes, beach bumming, and on and on and on.

--The good: FOOD! Singapore had some seriously crap food which was just a watered down mix of influences from several countries (fusion at its worst, if you ask me). I’m ecstatic to go to the source and try plate after plate after plate of deliciousness.

--The good: amazing people. It’s incredible how quickly travelers form a bond between each other and how rejuvenating it can be to meet someone you can easily talk to and hear say, “I know!” And of course I’ll be seeing Justin and my mom, which is the ultimate reward for making it through this year!!

--The bad: Very rarely seeing familiar faces or spaces. Can I make it seven months without feeling totally relaxed with where I am or who I’m with? I love meeting new people, but there’s already part of me that longs for home—how bad will it get?

--The bad: Stress. This is of a different nature than stress from work because while I’m travelling I will be totally reliant on myself to work it out. I can’t just call a friend and meet up for a beer after school or watch a movie and have some wine at home. I’ll have to really develop deeper patience and optimism and trust in fate.

Oh, man, there’s so much still to do that I’ve been getting anxiety attacks. I’d better sign off here so I can finish everything before Justin gets here. Can’t waiiiiiiiiiitttttttttttttttttt!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

**6 hours later**

Well. This day has been-- Um...well...you see, it’s—it’s just that...oh screw it.

This is NOT how I saw myself starting my trip: delayed a day with way less cash than I had planned on having, fighting off anxiety attacks, and just generally less excited than I had figured I’d be. Justin and Irene were exhausted from their running around before this so we’re leaving tomorrow morning instead, but it will mean almost a day in KL is gone. Then shipping my stuff home nearly depleted my bank account: S$2400 (about US$1800, I think). Thinking about that has made me so nervous because now I know I’ll have to use up my US money and possibly my credit cards to get by until I’m reimbursed and paid in February. And of course add to it all that I’m just exhausted and sick of Singapore. It’s easy to see how this isn’t the grand send-off I’d hoped for.

But now that Justin is here (what a great hug to make up for being apart for two years!), I can hear his voice in my head saying that I need to be less fixated on this and more appreciative of the good parts of this past year and the great experience that is to come. And he’s right; worrying isn’t going to make me feel better or get anything done, so I need to stop.

But there’s one other thing that definitely keeps repeating in my head: JUSTIN IS IN SINGAPORE AND WE’RE GOING TO MALAYSIA TOGETHER! Who would have ever predicted four years ago that life would have brought us here? Although just to prove to you he hasn’t changed all that much since I met him, the very first thing he did after he came into the condo was to climb out of the living room window and onto the ledge that looks down sixteen stories onto the temples across the street. Yeah, that’s the Justin I remember.

Okay, I’m off to sleep and to mentally reset so that when I wake up I’m not thinking about lost days or low money or any of that negative energy that is just going to hold me back from enjoying the trip and growing and experiencing and connecting and all that other hippy stuff. G’night.

Leia Mais…

Monday, November 15, 2010

A good idea if I may say so myself

So I’ve decided to keep doing something that I kind of started when I went to Indonesia earlier this year. It’s a way to make sure that I get an even deeper taste of the culture of the countries I’m going to, since it’s true that I am kind of sticking to the tourist track in most of the places I’m going (not that that means there are loads of tourists on this track to begin with). I’m going to read books either set in or written about the country I’m in, as well as a few for general reading about travel and Southeast Asia.

Frankly, I think this is going to be incredible. It started in Indonesia when I read “Map of the Invisible World” by Tash Aw. It’s set during the upheaval of the country’s bid for independence from the Dutch and is a really interesting depiction of the views of native Indonesians as well as whites who “feel” Indonesian and actually support independence, too. It gave me a really interesting perspective on what’s led to the current events in Indonesia (which aren’t great, with Merapi exploding, tsunamis smashing into Sumatra, the government being accused of corruption, religious fanaticism, etc. Sorry, Obama, but I don’t think Indonesia is a model for all Muslim countries to follow).

So here’s my reading list for this trip (nearly all of them have been downloaded to my laptop because I have Kindle for PC—hooray for technology!):

General:

Holidays in Hell: In Which Our Intrepid Reporter Travels to the World's Worst Places and asks "What's funny about this?" by PJ O'Rourke (for when I need some humor)

Travel Writing 1700-1830: An Anthology

A Tramp Abroad and Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain (not sure which one I fit into...)

Recommended: Book Lust to Go by Nancy Pearl--the go to lady for what to read, just wish I could download it

General SEA:

All About Coffee by William Ukers

Piracy, Turtles and Flying Foxes by William Dampier

Malaysia:

Evening is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan

Recommended: Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw (enjoyed his book about Indonesia: Map of the Invisible World) **Debating: it's pricey to download

Malaysia and Australia:


A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

Australia:

True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey (because in Australia you MUST read Peter Carey and about Ned Kelly)

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough (I would guess it's given out at the airport, but downloaded it just in case)

English Passengers by Matthew Kneale (for Tasmania)

Australian Legendary Tales by K. Parker

Recommended: Eucalyptus and the Songlines, as well as Death of a River Guide (for Tasmania)

Indonesia:

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

Max Havelaar by Multatuli (expose from a Dutch East India Co officer)

Krakatoa: Day the World Exploded by Simon Winchester (have to buy it somewhere)

Gold and Fishes by Donna Carrick

Borneo:

The Airmen and the Headhunters by Judith Heimann

Almayer's Folly by Joseph Conrad

Singapore:

King Rat by James Clavell (Rat--the other white meat)

(Was going to read West From Singapore by Louis L'Amour, but Amazon's summary just sounded too ridiculous)

Philippines:

Found in the Philippines: A Woman's Letters by Charles king

Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) by Jose Rizal

Recommended: When the Elephants Dance by Tess Holthe

Laos/Cambodia:

The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterill (a mystery set in Laos)

The King's Last Song by Geoff Ryman

Jungle Girl by Edgar Burroughs (Cambodia's female Tarzan!)

Recommended: When Broken Glass Floats--Growing up Under the Khmer Rouge

Vietnam:

The Quiet American by Graham Greene (you have to read it in Vietnam!!

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien (already read Going After Cacciato)

Thailand:

Tuk Tuk To the Road by Jo Huxster (2 girls go across the world in a tuk tuk--love it)

The King and I by Anna Leonowens (duh)

Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap (short stories)

For the flight home:

American Notes by Charles Dickens

English Writers on America by Washington Irving (he sticks it to the hacks in Britain in the 1800s making America look bad--fitting for today as well?)

Leia Mais…

Monday, November 1, 2010

To Do/To Pack

Damn, it is TIME CONSUMING to plan something like this!  I'm feeling kind of overwhelmed just by figuring out the plan for Australia alone!  Of course, with mom always on my back about 'Have we got this?  Have you booked that?' it's more pressure than I've ever put on myself, anyway.  I don't think mom would be able to stand traveling with me for longer than 2 weeks, especially since our ideas of a "budget hotel" seem to be drastically different, and I rarely book mine in advance.

Some of my preparations:
--Check on visa requirements in each country
--Buy equipment/supplies I don't already have
--Copy travel guides from the library so I don't have to buy them
--Compare rental cars, flights, and cars for sale in Australia
--Book hotel rooms in Tasmania and Sydney
--Find CouchSurfers willing to host mom and me and then just me on my own
--Clean out my room and meet with the agent to do inspections
--Finish preparing resources for next history teacher at school
--Clean school desk
--Write cards for teachers and friends
--Download any movies and music I want, back up my school and home laptop to external hard drive
--Communicate with Vital Co. about receipts and other finance issues
--Ship home things don't need on my trip and submit receipts to MOE
--Write letter to MOE officers about why I'm leaving and why I only know 1 foreign teacher interested in staying
--PACK!!!
Okay, I'm cutting it off here, but this is a little over half of the items on my to-do list.  :(

And just to give you a peek into my bags, here's part of my packing list:
--Chain and padlock, small padlocks for zippers
--Mosquito net
--PADI diving manual and diving log
--Laptop, point and shoot camera, DSLR camera and chargers and computer cables for all
--Pack of cards, books on my computer
--Various medicine including cold/sinus relief, anti-nausea, anti-diarrhea, Immodium, rehydration salts, allergy tablets, pain killers, etc.
--Water purifying tablets
--Clothing that I don't mind getting wet/dirty/sweaty/ripped/lost/stolen/etc
--Southeast Asia on a Shoestring guide book, notebook and pens
--Rain cover for bags and a poncho
--Adapters
--Sunglasses, bandanas, scarves, shawls, a little bit of jewelry, etc.
--Waterless laundry detergant
--iPod and headphones
--Bikini and beach towel (of course!)

I can't wait to show you all a picture of my pack--it's quite cool looking when it's all put together.  I am, however, quite certain that I'm going to get reallllly tired of wearing the same clothes for 7 months straight...

Leia Mais…

Friday, October 15, 2010

"The Big One", version 2.0

All right, so I have definitely conceded the fact that I am not going to make it to all of the countries on my original itinerary (which is, in turn, an edited version of my original version of going from Singapore across Asia, Australia, and Europe, but that was when I thought I would buy my own ticket home so I would have all of July). I think it will be quite a long time before I return to this part of the world, if ever, so I want to do it right. I’m going to slow down my pace and see a bit more of each country in Southeast Asia rather than push on so hard to get over to Nepal, India, and Sri Lanka. In fact, I’m so confident I won’t make it to those places that I’ve packed my travel guides already.


But whatever, I can see myself finding someone interested in joining me for two months on a trip to India, no matter where I end up living. That will definitely happen so I’m not worried. Bring on more of Borneo!

New and Improved Itinerary:
December: Malaysia and Australia
January: Australia, East Timor, Indonesia
February: Indonesia, Singapore (for a wedding), Borneo
March: Borneo and Philippines
April: Philippines and Vietnam
May: Cambodia and Laos
June: Laos, Thailand, possibly Nepal? I do NOT want to go to Myanmar, I know that.
FLIGHT HOME FROM SINGAPORE=JUNE 30

Leia Mais…

Thursday, September 30, 2010

"The Big One"

All right, the school year is nearly over and exams are coming up soon. This means that it’s time to get down to the real nitty gritty of planning my next big trip! I’ve been thinking about where to go and trying to get advice from people that I’ve met and I think I have a pretty good understanding of what I want to do. So as my first post about “The Big One”, as I’m calling it, is the itinerary. Read it and be very, very jealous.

**Side note: I am aware that some people go backpacking for years and years and so seven months might not seem that impressive. To those people I say, shut the hell up, this is my trip and to me it is MONUMENTAL. Stop judging and go write your own blog.**

December: Malaysia and Australia
January: Australia, East Timor, Indonesia
February: Indonesia, Singapore (for a wedding), Borneo
March: Philippines and Vietnam
April: Cambodia and Laos
May: Thailand and Nepal
June: Southern India and Sri Lanka
FLIGHT HOME FROM SINGAPORE=JUNE 30 (Thank you Ministry of Education!)

Leia Mais…

The Big One

All right, the school year is nearly over and exams are coming up soon. This means that it’s time to get down to the real nitty gritty of planning my next big trip! I’ve been thinking about where to go and trying to get advice from people that I’ve met and I think I have a pretty good understanding of what I want to do. So as my first post about “The Big One”, as I’m calling it, here’s the itinerary. Read it and be very, very jealous.
**Side note: I am aware that some people go backpacking for years and years and so seven months might not seem that impressive. To those people I say, shut the hell up, this is my trip and to me it is MONUMENTAL. Stop judging and go write your own blog.**
December: Malaysia and Australia
January: Australia, East Timor, Indonesia
February: Indonesia, Singapore (for a wedding), Borneo
March: Philippines and Vietnam
April: Cambodia and Laos
May: Thailand and Nepal
June: Southern India and Sri Lanka
FLIGHT HOME FROM SINGAPORE=JUNE 30 (Thank you Ministry of Education for paying for it, but it was the least you could do, really.)

Leia Mais…

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sooo fulllllllllllllllll

Today was all about two things the people of this Muslim country are supposed to be avoiding this month: food and water.  Oh, Lord, my eyelids are dropping already; I hope I have the energy to type this whole thing.  I can barely move my fingers to type, so if you see a lot of letters in a row it meant I fell asleep.  Sorry.

Well, this morning we had a nice breakfast of pineapple, papaya, passion fruit (really good even if I wish I didn’t have to crunch through the seeds to eat it), and quite a large Indonesian version of a Chinese pau (doughier, but meat was leaner and tastier).  Throw in some sugary coffee and I’m sure I had the breakfast of Indonesian champions.

And then we were off because there’s no time to waste if we want to be able to see both the rural village and the waterfall and get home before it’s too dark. We jump on the back of two motorbikes, one driven by Egar and one by Henry, two guys about my age who are friend's of Yudi's family and who work for Yudi as guides when they don't have other jobs.  It's a thirty-minute ride to the dirt track leading down to the rural village, and you know I like motorbikes so the ride was great!  Smooth road, sunny weather that wasn’t too hot, no mahchet (traffic jams), the boys were good, safe drivers, and the scenery was gorgeous.  In fact, the only problem I had was one I created myself: I put down my leg to hold the bike steady when we stopped and burned myself (again!) pretty badly on the exhaust.  So now I have a circular scar about the diameter of a ping pong ball on my right calf to match the one the size of a cherry on my left shin.  We slathered it in toothpaste and rode on.
It’s absolutely lovely here and I love that after every 3 or 4 colorful houses there’s suddenly rice fields straight up to the road for a hundred meters then there’s another half-dozen houses before a lemongrass field and so on.  Views from the road included racks of vertically-sliced bananas set out to dry by the road (mmm—dieselly goodness), a positively gigantic brown falcon perched on someone’s fence, my initials spelled out in glass blocks in the wall of someone’s house, and lots of swastikas, which I like to think were supposed to be Indian prayer symbols that they accidentally painted backwards (except one did say 'Nazie area', so I’m not sure). 

The walk along the dirt track to the village started easily enough, and we were all joking and laughing and excited to be out in the countryside.  Mario pointed out a plant called ‘shy princess’ that withers as soon as you touch it, so of course we had a blast for about five minutes just making it shrink away from us.  Egar pointed out lots of plants, too, including menthol, lemongrass, pineapple, baby pineapple (yes, a separate type of plant), coopa (a tasty sour fruit like a cherry, only you discard the tough skin), some other berry that looks like a hairy blueberry, and, surprisingly, coffee and cacao!  I couldn’t believe I got to see cacao and coffee beans still growing on the tree!  That’s how I really knew I was in the tropics.  These weren’t the best variety, though, because they were red and everybody knows the yellow variety is the better tasting.
video
Speaking of Egar, he’s a nice guy and very knowledgeable of the languages, plants and customs of the area.  Overall, he is an excellent guide, but it does have to be said that he has a very limited repertoire of jokes.  As we were climbing the hill, breathing hard and sweating profusely, every twenty minutes he would say, “Just 30 minutes more!”  I don’t think he noticed that each time he said it he got less laughter and that about half-way up people just stopped responding.  Later, at the top, I said a few words to a woman in Sindhanese and he declared that I was “Almost Indonesian!”, which was quite cute up until about dinnertime when he’d said it for the 8th time.  But he is a good guide and very excited to show us around and take us to the store and all of that.  However, I’m a tad nervous to go to the floating village with him tomorrow because sometimes I do like to enjoy things quietly.

But back to today.  We had a brutal climb for about 90 minutes, through the jungle and up to the top of the hill; it’s one of the best workouts I’ve had in a while.  Dripping doesn’t quite describe the rivers of sweat that were running down our temples and creating a trail of salty breadcrumbs back to the start of the hike.  But poor Henry had the worst of it: he’s fasting for Ramadan, so he won’t take any food or water until 6pm tonight.  Egar’s not exactly helping him and I really wish he’d stop calling him a sissy for falling a little behind.  But along the way we stopped to enjoy the incredible views and say hello to the people living on the hill and—hesitantly—sample some treats they had set out to dry in the sun (and dust).  Called doedoe (sp?) it’s a squishy, jelly-ish, gooey ‘cake’ about the size of a doughnut hole squished flat and made of rice flour, brown sugar and pumpkin.  We took the plunge and found it was really anack (good)!
Finally, after 90 minutes we reached our destination: a surprisingly large thatched house occupied by a couple that look 75 but are probably closer to 55 or 60.  Inside it’s wide open and very cool and there are some delicious smells coming in from the large kitchen at the end of the house.  We sat in their kitchen with them, talking with Egar as an intermediary (who today I got to teach the words crunchy, pointy and plastic surgery), and watched three women prepare what must have been an absolute feast, especially since they’re fasting, too.  I absolutely adored their kitchen: the ceiling was a good 20 feet up and the windows were just slits to the outside world so there was a lovely, soft natural light everywhere.  Since the house is built a couple of feet off the ground we got to watch chickens and the family dog prowl underneath us through the thin gaps in the woven mat floor.  They had two clay ovens (the larger one was for boiling the brown sugar they sell) and to adjust the temperature you either stick more bamboo sticks underneath or take them away.  So what did they make for us?  Read on and be very jealous.
 Cianjur rice and tea, of course, stir fried veggies (so delish and a bit sweet from the coconut oil), tangy seaweed that must have had some vinegar in it, mie goreng (basically noodles in sauce—the only thing I didn’t have), spring rolls shaped like empanadas, (a vegetable and the only thing I didn’t like because of the terrible, bitter taste), fried potatoes (super soft inside and nice and salty), kueali (think of an amazing mini-donut: rice flour, brown sugar and coconut milk fried in coconut oil), kutu mayung (a rice cake that starts bright pink and super hard then after being fried for 10 seconds is gigantic, crispy, pastel, and ADDICTING), and my absolute favorite item: tempeh that was almost creamy and fried to perfection.  It was heaven.

THIS IS ONE OF THE TOP THREE MEALS I HAVE HAD SINCE MOVING TO ASIA.  I FREAKING LOVE INDONESIA!!!!!!!!!!!
video
So after our incredible lunch we hauled our incredibly full bellies back outside and started the equally treacherous walk down the hill.  At one point we stopped to poke our heads into a rice 'shelling' room, where the rice grains are dropped into a machine and their protective sheath is spit out the window while the rice drops down a chute to be eaten.  It was loud and hot, though, so all we could think about was the waterfall we were going to go to next and how refreshing it would be; I had created this mental picture of a gentle, soothing cascade of water that dropped in a two-foot wide arc into a pool we would swim up to it in.  In the end my predictions came out looking more like the fountain outside my condo than anything I’ve actually seen in nature, but that’s what happens when you live in Singapore, where all the waterfalls are artificial.

What I didn’t see coming was a drive and a hike through part of a tea plantation to get there!  Talk about idyllic, I felt like I was stepping into a scene from an Ang Lee film.  Turns out I was also totally wrong about the waterfall!  The real one took my vision, pumped it up with steroids and force-fed it some speed.  It thundered over the rocks, tumbled down a hundred feet or more, and kicked up such heavy spray we couldn’t even come close to it on the rocks or in the water without risking being swept over the boulders and down the river.  It took approximately 3 minutes for the spray to soak us through and through; we could barely open our eyes and looking up was impossible.  I did spend a few minutes wondering what might have been ‘added’ to the water by the villages upstream, but it’s best not to dwell on the potential faecal coliform content and focus on keeping your footing and fighting against the fire hose turned on you.
 This is seriously one of the best days I’ve had in a long time.  Singapore has really been getting me down this entire year and there’s very little to do there that’s adventurous or even just plain fun, or if there is I wouldn’t know because I don’t have time to look for it with how work has been going.  So you can guess how much I’m enjoying riding on the back of a motorbike watching rice paddies fly by, feeling the leftovers from a waterfall drip down the back of my shirt, still tasting the homemade goodness from lunch, looking forward to another day where I’m not responsible for anyone other than myself.  I used to think any day I wasn’t more depressed was a good day; now I realize what a crappy outlook that is to have on your life, which is too short to put with shit like that.  So I’m quitting and am super excited to do so.

Best surprise of the day: back at Yudi’s we were sitting around drinking hot tea and enjoying our first chance to sit comfortably since lunch when a truck drove by with a soft serve ice cream machine on the back!  Oh, I was all over that, so I grabbed $.20 in rupiah and had myself a delicious chocolate ice cream cone.  And you know I just happened to stop at the store earlier for a couple of squares of toga, a peanut toffee, for $.05 each so I was pretty well set for a post-hike snack. 

At the end of the day Yudi and his wife were out so we all went to what I came to call ‘Hawker’s Lane’.  It’s basically a bunch of push carts lined up on the street with a couple tables next to them, all protected from passing cars by a large banner saying the food they’re selling (illustrated, of course).  I was so excited to try some real, authentic lontong from the city that is famous for it, but in the end I prefer what I had in Sumatra and even what’s in our school cafeteria.  This was less sweet (less coconut milk) and more salty (they add soy sauce and fried onions) and there’s no cabbage, so it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting.  I always like it when they add the yellow and pink crisps, though, because they’re so tasty when you soak them in the broth and get them nice and soggy. 
 Back at home we all basically settled in as soon as we arrived, trying to ignore the fireworks being set off by the neighbors.  As I reflected on the day, I realized that my earlier epiphany about loving Indonesia is totally true.  I really think this country is amazing.  Inexpensive and good food, friendly people (with a handful of terrorists mixed in to keep things interesting), amazing scenery, gorgeous beaches, beautiful mosques and temples, and I’ve only seen about half of it!  If they can just sort out a better bus system and waste management services I’m not sure I would have any complaints.  The best thing of all, though, is being so tired from something ENJOYABLE and not sheer exhaustion like at home.  Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Ministry of Education.

Leia Mais…

Saturday, September 4, 2010

It's Not a Tumor

Okay, call me crazy, but while eating lunch today I realized that I like Jakarta. 


I’m not going to move here, though, let’s not go crazy.  Even though the day began with a really rough start, I kept at it and the city proved it’s got some nice things to offer. 

But let’s get the bad stuff out of the way.  Sleeping was extremely difficult, which I will spare you the details about except to say that there were mosquitoes dive-bombing us so I wrapped up from head to toe in the sheets and a scarf but then I started sweating but when I unwrapped I got bites and it was so loud because people were doing their Friday night partying and it was all just a bit difficult.  I was up again five hours after I lay down, and that’s when I saw it: my upper lip had swollen to nearly 3 times its normal size.  I looked like that lady in “Legally Blonde” who had to learn the bend and snap.  It was so weird!  I think it had to be due to a mosquito bite (I hope) but if it didn’t go away I had no idea what I was going to do.  I swear, the craziest shit happens when you travel.

Undeterred, however, I set out to see the area of Jakarta that was closest to my hotel and which, like every other city in Indonesia, was hot, loud, smelly, and strewn in garbage.  In other words, two large steps up from the cities of India.  At least there aren’t cows running all over here leaving little gifts on the street.  Anyway, I concentrated on the area around the National Monument, which Lonely Planet claims has the nickname ‘Sokarno’s last erection’.  It’s basically just a flame on a tall pillar with some landscaping underneath, so I hope the others are at least a bit more interesting to look at.  Wait a minute, those giant fake flowers look like ladies’.... oh that’s why the name.  Gotcha.
 
The grounds around the monument would make for a nice walk or spot for a picnic and you can see a massive dome in the distance belonging to what I was told was the grandest mosque in Southeast Asia.  When I get there it turns out looking more like a government building than anything else, but in a country where Islam has such a strong influence, maybe that’s exactly what it is.  The Presidential Palace is just down the street and is also a bit anti-climactic, although I’m sure the 3 other palaces around the country make up for that.

I couldn’t find the history museum, unfortunately, but I did get nice and sweaty and ready for lunch.  When I returned to our room, Marianne was already there.  She had found a better hotel for the same price (no surprise there) and was going to move and do some shopping for work clothes.  She starts a job here on Monday, an internship in a program studying water usage.  It turns out she used to live here as a child and still speaks a bit of Bahasa, although she isn’t super excited to be returning.  God, I’d be feeling a lot of trepidation too if I were facing a six-month stint here.    

We said our goodbyes and traded emails because she was ready to go and I still needed to eat, so I went for an incredibly forgetful lunch then went back to the hotel to pack.  After my horribly sweaty walk this morning (which at least was totally free), I decided to treat myself to a taxi with air con to the bus station.  I don’t do this very often, but I also wanted to save time, so paying $8 instead of $.80 seemed worth it.  On the way, I started to think Jakarta is like a movie set: everything has a nice front on it but when you look at what’s holding it up from behind it’s all crumbling and cheap.   I was looking at the skyscrapers earlier today wondering what kind of safety codes they have and how well they’re being enforced, given the amount of corruption that the government has been accused of in recent years. 

But all will be well because I have seen the holy Trinity: Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Pizza Hut are here, bringing good old American culture and democracy to the suffering masses in the developing world.  My taxi driver proudly pointed them out as we crawled through a traffic jam, something every real Jakartan must do every day (manage traffic, I mean, not point to stuff).  When an ambulance, lights and sirens blasting, crept past us going about 5km/hour, the driver had one thing to say: “Dead”.  At least that’s what I think he said.

Speaking of dead, that would almost be preferable to the bus ride I endured after that, but then when isn’t that the case when you ride the cheap, public buses?  So hot.  So sticky.  So crowded.  So loud.  So dirty.  So MISERABLE.  This was definitely the hottest bus I’ve ridden on, and I found myself hoping I would pass out just so I didn’t have to feel the heat pressing down on me like a soggy blanket. On a related note, I wonder when Indonesians will realize that they could get rid of the cockroaches crawling around if they stopped dropping food and trash on the floor. 

But soon enough I’m in the house of Yudi Sujana in a city called Cianjur, southeast of Jakarta several hours.  He’s my host for the homestay I’m doing for the next few days and he seems like a really nice guy.  We chat for a few minutes before he invites me to explore the neighborhood as he’s just about to prepare dinner.  It turns out there is a very large area referred to as Cianjur, but where I am is the city proper.  The homes are actually quite nice and are built alongside the rice paddies that cover the landscape for hundreds of kilometers.  The sun is going down as I explore and families are coming out to celebrate the end of fasting for the day.  One man is grilling whole fish over a small fire (it looks and smells delicious), fathers sit on the porch with their kids talking and laughing as mothers are undoubtedly inside cooking.  A group of teenage boys is cracking each other up on the lawn of another house, and a few children play on a parked moped with absolutely no adults within sight.  So a typical evening for Cianjur.
Back in the house I'm introduced to Mario, a German traveler who is about to end his trip and go to Jakarta in a couple of days to fly home.  We have a simple meal of rice and satay and vegetables (terrifically yummy), get through the basic introductions then decide to take the same trip tomorrow to a rural village a few dozen kilometers away.  To be honest, I'm glad I'm not the only foreigner staying because I just don't have the energy for small talk with Yudi's entire family!  But I'd like to tomorrow so I'm going to bed to get my energy back.

 Looking over what I’ve written, it seems like I’m complaining a lot, considering how much I enjoyed Jakarta.  What’s easy to do is focus on the annoying and aggravating and forget to mention the little things that are nice: watching kids play basketball, a beautiful statue of horses pulling a chariot, mosques with tall minarets that still seem so exotic, a Dutch bakery with a working windmill, a life-sized bull painted vibrant colors, tiny alleys that twist away from the street and invite with you to explore them... there’s plenty to put a smile on your face.

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