Back from The Big Durian

SO, I am back from Indonesia! It’s been about 10 months since my last post. Bear with me, I will be updating you on my experiences in The Big Durian (AKA Jakarta) in a series of themed blogs.

To start you off, here are a few reverse culture/habitat shocks I’ve been dealing with in the past month:

1. Clothes, why you no dry?!
After months of living in 30+ degree heat that dries my clothes overnight, I’ve been staggered to find that my clothes can hang for over 3 days and still not be wearable. Life suddenly requires a lot more forward planning!

2. Coming face to face with a rainforest’s arch nemesis…
UK, why the aversion to bum guns? Water jets are a very common way to clean yourself off in Asia before wiping and quite frankly we should adopt them. Why? Well, without giving too much detail, I feel like I am single-handedly slaying the rainforest every time I take a number 2.

3. Where is my adoring press?
Narcissism alert! Surprisingly, very few people actually asked me about my experiences in Indonesia. Maybe that’s just my friends but other people I know who have spent significant periods abroad have reported similar circumstances. I speak for us all when I say “please ask me some damned questions!” because we’re all sitting here trying to say “when I was in [insert country]” or “that reminds me of this time in [insert country]” far more often than you realise. That said, I have done a lot of Indonesian cooking with my mum. Thank you, mum.

4. The biggest kid around the Christmas tree is…
…me! It’s been two years since I celebrated Christmas, so I’m the one insisting on Advent Calendars and taking the Christmas tree decorations a little too seriously. It looks awesome. I snapchatted it to everyone I could. After receiving a mediocre response, I put it on Instagram and waited patiently for day time to roll around in Jakarta where I knew my students would be super excited by it.

Oh, Christmas Tree, oh, Christmas tree, how lovely are your branches!

Oh, Christmas Tree, oh, Christmas tree, how lovely are your branches!

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The frost glows white on the farmland tonight, not a footprint to be seen~

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Latest creation; beef rendang.

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The Quarter Mile and Christmas Backlog

Next week, I will have been living in Jakarta for 3 months. That doesn’t sound like much but when I consider that I’m already a quarter of the way through my time here it seems pretty mind-boggling!

Today

My lessons are cancelled today due to flooding. Apparently the water is waist high! It honestly felt like winning the lottery. I love my classes but, being a quiet person, having to converse with people for at least five hours a day is pretty exhausting. Fortunately, my house is fine; the school is a couple of miles away from where I live. We had a minor flood a couple of days ago. Water started to flow through cracks in the floor of our kitchen as the water table rose. The kitchen is slightly sunk compared to the rest of the ground floor to help protect the rest of the rooms. Unfortunately, it continued to pour and water started coming out of the walls in two bedrooms and up through the floor in my room. We tried bailing it out for a while. A fools errand. Eventually, the boys waded out to get beer and Stifan made me dance with him in the water. The floor tiles become super slippery when they’re wet, so it was a pain when you wanted to walk anywhere. But nothing was damaged and have a handy flood-break wall outside our front door. It could have been a lot worse!

Lesson learned: When the high water comes, stay positive and attempt to party.

Christmas Holidays

Now, stepping back in time. I spent my Christmas holiday learning how to surf in Pacitan and exploring the city of Yogjakarta (Jogja) .

For anyone looking for a quiet getaway, I highly recommend booking into Harry’s Ocean House in Pacitan (around 4 hours drive from Jogja). It’s a great surfing community home stay less than five mins from the bay. It’s really basic accommodation; mattresses on the floor of wooden houses, but it is all you need. There’s a large communal kitchen and you can rent good quality boards. The owner actually makes his own in a workshop onsite. And if you don’t have your own transport, they have a large collection of mopeds that you can borrow to get down to the beach. The also do car pick-ups from Jogjakarta for just 300,000Rp.

At the left side of the bay, a river meets the sea, which makes for a really interesting experience for the senses. One minute you’re paddling in warm sea water, swallowing salt; the next you’re hit by the cold, murky river water which tastes decidedly sweet in comparison… then you’re back in the heat of sea. As we paddled out to the calmer water, the side of the bay towered high above our heads. Flora bursts from every crag in the rock and the sky was so blue it hurt to look at for to long. The beach was clean; the only thing you had to watch out for was the driftwood. The sand was soft and streaked with the black glitter of volcanic sand. The sunsets were astoundingly beautiful; the clouds over the forests on the edge of the bay seemed to catch fire. At night all you can hear are the songs of frogs and crickets. I honestly, felt like it was the closest to paradise I had ever been.

The wet season is the best time to go if you’re a beginner like me because the waves are smaller. Having said that, I almost drowned anyway! It took me a few hours to stop being afraid of every wave that came my way. I soon learned to accept that I was just going to swallow water and get it down my nose, so that I should just get on with it! I was completely exhausted by my third day, burnt to a crisp (literally) down the back of my legs and had a rather impressive collection of bruises but it was the most fun I’ve had in a long time! I caught lots of waves and the thrill of riding them is well worth all of the hard work it takes to get to them in the first place. And, its one more thing to check off of my bucket list!

It felt odd to spend Christmas away from my family and away from the internet and my friends. Let it be known that I am owed one Christmas dinner! But, I would be lying if I said it wasn’t nice to get away from all the hype and the mania of urban life.

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I spent the rest of my holiday travelling on my lonesome in Jogja. Maybe I just haven’t been to the right areas of Jakarta yet, but Jogja immediately struck me as more of my kind of city. There is street art everywhere, bands play on lots of the main streets and there are a lot more tourist attractions. Jakarta is full of history, but its modern history like the declaration of independence. Jogja has a lot more pre-colonial cultural features.

I buddied up with some wonderful German and Dutch girls (never confuse the two!!) and an English girl who teaches in Jakarta (it is such a small world!) for adventure time. Highlights of the trip included cycling around Prambanan Temple and the other, less advertised, temples; seeing a traditional dance display in Kraton/the sultan’s palace; exploring the ruins of Taman Sari/The Water Palace; and getting lost in the beautiful batik painting shops and shadow puppet workshops.

I threw myself into a new level of street food experience on this holiday, thanks to Race. I am now a pro at eating with my hands. I also spent most of my meals sitting on the mats that are spread out along the streets at night. We found a fantastic vegan restaurant in north Jogja. The Loving Hut serves the most convincing mock meat I have ever tried. I had to ask if my tofu was chicken was actually made from tofu. The BBQ bacon was also purely tofu but I couldn’t tell the difference!

The façade of Taman Sari

The façade of Taman Sari

Traditional dancers

Traditional dancers

Light through a doorway at Candi Sewu (my favourite photo!)

Light through a doorway at Candi Sewu (my favourite photo!)

Candi Sewu (Sewu Temple - Buddhist)

Candi Sewu (Sewu Temple – Buddhist)

Other THOUGHTS

I’m continuing to learn a lot about myself and city survival in Jakarta. I think this post has got long enough but I’ll be uploading some ponderings about Indonesians’ peculiar fascination with bulay (white foreigners), being in a cross-cultural relationship and some of my experiences as a new teacher!

For now – ciao! :)

Week 1 in Indonesia

Ok… so this whole travel-blogging thing hasn’t gone massively well! The original excuse of “I’m jetlagged” and “I’m so tired from learning how to teach!” have officially worn out. But today my heart is back in my throat and it seems as good a time as any to make a start! I’m leaving Jakarta for a week to explore central Java and Jogjakarta. My Christmas present to myself is watching the sunrise from a volcanic crater and learning to surf. I can’t quite believe that this is my life! I’m going on my own so I am slightly overwhelmed by the sensation of breaching the unknown. I felt exactly the same in the long drive to the airport in England. I held my mother’s hand the entire way and I felt like a child. I think in some respects I am; I’m growing an immature part of me. I’m still wet behind the ears when it comes to lone-travelling!

So, here is a blog I started at the end of my first week in Jakarta. I will write a separate one about my trip to Singapore and other Indonesian escapades when I get back in the New Year… No, really, I will. Promise.

Gates and Terminals (aka the 21 hour trip via Abu Dhabi)

After a tearful goodbye at the airport, I got sucked into the surreal domain of terminals and gates. Time drifts when you’re waiting for a call to a gate and hurtles forward when you decide to mollify your boredom by having a root around in the shops. You find yourself justifying paying £1.50 for a chocolate bar when it would usually cost you 60p. You accept that this is just the way things are – the airport has a culture all of its own.

I landed in Abu Dhabi with 5 hours to spare before my next flight. I had just discovered that those odd-looking neck cushions are made for people bigger than me and virtually useless for mid-flight naps. Having got up at 4am, I’m almost ashamed to say I simply hunted down a sleeping pod and tried to sleep. They’re basically a leather seat that reclines and then a hood rolls over the top of you. They are not soundproof and the air vents let in light, so if you’re a light sleeper, I would avoid them!

Despite my sleep haze, the incredible architecture of the place made a deep and lasting impression. Everywhere was white, clean and bright, filled with concentric patterns. In one of the terminals, a gigantic pillar rose from the floor below to form a beautiful fluted ceiling, decorated with a million tiny tiles.

That’s about it for my experience of Abu Ahabi. An Indonesian chap adopted myself and a Belgian traveller at the gate, sharing with us a huge list of foods we should try and giving us various things to snack on. My first taste of how friendly Indonesian people can be!

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The Grand Entrance

I’m not sure what I imagined when I read “33 degrees and 67% humidity” on Google. I think the likely answer is “nothing at all”. I didn’t imagine; they were just numbers on a screen. Getting off the air conditioned plane, I walked into a literal wall of heat. I thought it was the overhead fans, but as I climbed into my pick up car from my school, it became very clear that the cloying heat was not going to go away. My contact casually chirped “actually, we’re in a bit of a cold snap at the moment” and I immediately regretted bringing even my lightweight jeans.

Days 2-4

The next few days passed in a blur made particularly surreal by my lack of inability to stay awake for more than 8 hours at a time. My room in Matraman had no windows and as a result, my circadian rhythm took a jolly holiday. I learned within my first 24 hours that most people lived off of street food in our neighbourhood and that it was entirely safe and normal.  It’s only been a week and one of the vendors already knows what I’m most likely to order from his cart – nasi goreng. Here that means egg-fried rice with chilli, fresh cucumber and mildly pickled carrots and onions. What you get as “nasi goreng” varies across the archipelago and across the world. The price for a big bowl is a stunning Rp.9000 (45p). A wing of fried chicken (free range and of superior quality to anything I’ve had in the UK), is just Rp.5000 (28p). Everything comes with chilli sauce, even if the dish has chilli in it!

I lived in a part of Matraman for a week which several people have described as the place to be if you want to see “real Jakarta”. This means, living right opposite an open sewer and having broken glass as intruder deterrent. The building is shared with a family who run a laundry service. No-one was home when I arrived. I made the mistake of trying to open a glass partition door in the kitchen which actually led into the laundrette’s part of the house. It was locked, thankfully, saving me a huge amount of embarrassment. It took me days to stop flinching when I thought I could hear strangers in the house. Noise permeates constantly. Double-glazing isn’t needed here and I never realised just how good it was at keeping sound out!

I think the first thing I noticed about Jakarta was… Indonesia has one of the greatest wealth disparities in Asia and it is something you see on a daily basis. I think its important to stress that whilst you are surrounded by dirt and the overhanging smell of waste, it doesn’t strike you as anything like the Save The Children adverts. I have no doubt that is unhygienic and it is a little shocking, but the people all along the road always seem to be in a good mood. There’s a cultural difference in attitude to waste. As far as I can tell, no one comes to pick up the rubbish; it just gets slowly devoured by the stray cats, rats and cockroaches. The recycling system here exists on a personal level; people will pay you for your empty bottles and cardboard but the government has no hand in it. A woman came onto our porch one day and just helped herself to our trash. That was shocking.

//end unfinished first week blog post.

Minor Freak Out #1

Once upon a time, when we were young and learning a proper command of our mother tongues, we were asked to write a sentence and practice emphasising each word differently…

I am going to Indonesia.

I am going to Indonesia.

I am going to Indonesia.

I am going to Indonesia.

I am going to Indonesia.

I think I might be in a mild state of shock. It’s actually happening. I can’t back out now. Green tap water, unpredictable electricity supply and high humidity here I come! Ready or not… For better, for worse…

Despite the sporadic bolts of terror, I can honestly say that nothing feels better than planning to take a step into the unknown. I don’t know if I’ll like Jakarta – I’ve never lived in a big city and just because I survived a similar climate in Uganda when I was 8 years old, it doesn’t mean I will be any good with coping with it now I’m an adult.

That said, the feeling of expanding horizons is nothing short of brilliant. I’m terrified but in a positive and exhilarating way. Really, the presence of fear probably means that have some sense knocking around in my skull; there are definitely things to be afraid of out there!

Overall, SUPER EXCITEMENT AND IT HASN’T EVEN SUNK IN PROPERLY YET!

P.S. Window seats all the way, my friends! Booya!

P.P.S. I asked for a Hindu Vegetarian meal thinking it would be like Indian food. I then realised it probably meant that they wouldn’t use beef as an ingredient… Oh well, we shall see!

The Helpfulness of Ritual

Moving can be tough, even if you chose to it and mentally prepared yourself for it. Sometimes life is all over the place and there’s not much you can do to stop it. I feel like that at the moment. Like my life is one of those giant multicoloured parachutes that you get to play with at play group. It feels like a bunch of unchangeable external forces, here represented by a bunch of kids, has just come along, picked up the parachute and shaken it as fast as their little arms can go. They might even have got friction burn. Then, last night, I got to sit down, on a nice plushy rug, facing my bedroom window and meditate. Doesn’t sound like much of a big deal, but I felt like amidst all the super chaos, I had driven a stake into the ground and pinned a part of that rampant parachute down. I liked where I was; it felt familiar and I immediately felt a little less panicked and a little more secure. I used to meditate facing the window in my room back in Oxford and getting to bring that pattern of behaviour with me felt good. Don’t get me wrong. I love being home with my family after so long, but I had expected to be living in Oxford for a long time. This is the adjustment period, people, bear with me!

I was taught in my anthropology classes that ritual is often born out of want for security and order. I thought people were putting too much emphasis on the importance of rituals. I was deeply cynical when things like sweeping the floor were labelled up as “cleansing rituals”. To me, ritual was so strongly associated with the religious that it didn’t make sense. Now, I think I see it better. Rituals are habits that keep us in order in some way and I see now how more mundane rituals make a big difference to how grounded we feel. For some people, keeping the place clean makes them feel better. For me it helps to make tea.

I’m going to work on identifying the little things that make me feel better over the next few weeks. I think it will help when I hit the road! Comment and contribute – what’s your top calming ritual?

Ashes to Dust!

I have a lot of love for this photograph set by Olivier Valsecchi.

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I am Dust + Time of War by Olivier Valsecchi

(2009-2012) Inspired by Ovid’s definition of Chaos – a confused mass of liquid and fog, order and disorder, light and darkness – the “Dust” (2009) and “Time of War” (2012) series, part of the “I am dust” project, are about incarnation, resurrection, rebuild what was destroyed, struggling for life.
Olivier Valsecchi was born in Paris in 1979. Revealed to the public eye in 2010 by  DUST,  this series earned him the prestigious Hasselblad Masters Award two years later.
Incarnation remains the main theme in Valsecchi’s oeuvre. Thus he decided to dive into his DUST series once again, whilst adding a parameter to it:  a soul of their own. Deliberately choosing to set the second part of his “I AM DUST” saga in a former arms factory, this autobiographic project is on the theme of incarnation and Samsara. Whereas the first part illustrated…

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