Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The musings and happenings of the last week or so...

So this week has flown by. It's also been pretty cool as I've managed not to cry ;) Things in the classroom have been pretty relaxed and I've had some nice classes. I've been teaching about a third less classes than I have been in recent weeks and it's a much welcomed change! Nothing out of the ordinary has happened really but I've been in touch with a charity and I've been cleared to visit after Christmas to see what goes on in an Indonesian childrens' charity, so I'm actually pretty stoked about that!... Luckily it's Christmas next weekend and the schools will be closed for nine days which gives me the opportunity to see a bit more of Java before I leave. Time is passing so fast and once I return to work in the new year I'll only have a few weeks left on my contract. The year has just flown by!...

This week I was sent a parcel from home with some pretty cool presents. Most of them are personal jokes amongst friends and you really have to know the intricate details of my sordid past. Not that there are any deep dark secrets or anything, no secrets at all, just embarrasing events really. I'm really grateful for all the gifts from Tom, Paul, Jo, Gaz, Kelvin and Lewis. I'm now the proud owner of a Mick Foley action figure and I have to say Kalves that all the kids and teachers absolutely love the fart putty! It was also pretty cool to have a Christmas card from someone who wasn't my mum too! Although the best Christmas card I've received to date was from a seven year old called Darrell. He's a bit special and a real pain in the arse... but everybody loves him... by everyone, I actually mean me... and by love I actually mean I think he's the funniest person I've ever met... ever! He's a little shit though. But awesome. He's the kind of kid that nobody can teach and all the teachers dread. He's amazing! The card he wrote me was pretty funny – I have a running joke with him where I call him 'Gappy' as he has lost his front milk teeth, I think he might still be waiting for the tooth fairy to deposit the cash... he's pretty mad! - the card reads "all I want for Christmas is my two front teeth" on the front (apparently he loves the song) and inside it reads "Mr Lee Punya pacar... (has a girlfriend, not true may I add) and bau (stinks). Thousand years of death!!!... Merry Christmas, Darrell"... He's my hero!

My business lesson this week consisted of killing enough time using the course book so that the students still felt like they'd learned something and the rest of it was spent doing Christmassy things. I made a wordsearch, crossword and quiz and awarded a prize for the first team to finish each activity successfully. Unfortunately the same team won everything! It wasn't all bad though, we made them share some of it though although one of them got pretty precious about sharing the good stuff... "n'gak boleh" was what I heard her repeating "ini n'gak boleh" or something close to that – I'm pretty turd at spelling in Indonesian – "this is not okay", she was basically just saying we could share the Dairy Milk but the Ferrero Rocher was strictly for home. I'd spent a reasonable amount on crisps, cake and drinks to have in class and used Youtube to play Christmas music... although I think some of it was lost on the muslims in the class... they are pretty cool and down with whatever really they just go with the flow and enjoy the atmosphere and all in all it was nice. Unfortunately Wizzard and Noddy Holder didn't impress them as much as I thought they would! (...
The only thing that dissapointed me was the reserved politeness... Indonesians will only really eat half of what is on offer – the old save it for other people thing later on thing – I was expecting them to pig-out with crumbs clinging to their chins... at least I was hoping for that. That would have been something closer to home. My Mum's a bit of a wimp in any conventional situation but if there is food involved she turns into The Incredible Hulk and clears the room of any competition... she can clean a buffet out in under ten minutes... so by her standards I was left a tad deflated! ;)... I'd also had to protect my stash from the office staff downstairs. Gaby in particular is a psycho when you hide the Chitatos from her. She must've screamed "Lee... I want Chitato!" at me 5 or 6 times before I'd even made it to the top of the stairs! I was then given the same treatment during my break and when I presented them with the other half of the leftover cake she just looked at me screeched "pelit!!!!!!" (Stingy) and said "I no like cake or chocolate I want Chitato... Pelit"... I realise that I make her sound like a mental patient but I'm scared that she's going to try and eat me next time!!! It felt like I was Bruce Willis in Die Hard with a Vengeance when he's walking through Harlem in New York with an "I hate n****rs sign"... Luckily I'm safe and sound and she was momentarily dazed my the smell of half stale chocolate brownies! =p It was that intense!! "Pelit!!!!!..." It was cool though the class got together and bought me some posh style Indonesian nosh. While not my favourite snacks, it's the thought that counts...

This week also saw my first experience of an Indonesian wedding. It had a bride and a groom and lots of people but it didn't really have the aura of a wedding reception to me. By that I mean it was nothing like a British wedding... there was no shit disco, the buffet was of a really high quality, nobody was pissed and there were no family members fighting for some bullshit reason... It was pretty pleasant and there were lots of people from work there. You basically stand in a big room with lots of other people and no tables and chairs. The bride walks in to the waiting husband and they have a smooch – which is well gay! Urrrr.... - and then make their way up to a stage and people congratulate them. After that there is some organised photo taking followed by a ruckus to the best food. One of the plump office girls at work made a beeline for some rice dish from Bali... I decided that she knew best and decided I'd go for that too... it's pretty intense as Indonesians don't really do public courtesy very well so queueing for the food was less than civilised, akin to that of a school dinner queue when the turkey twizzlers are being taken by all the younger kids... Indonesians are very hospitable if they are hosting you but in public – and this is a massive generalisation – they don't seem to give a fuck ;)... and the prevailing ethos in this situation seemed to pretty much be "foooooood... me first...."... Other than that it was cool to spend some time with the Indonesians at work as I was the only honkey from EF in attendance. In fairness, Nana – the bride – looked absolutely amazing and overall it was pretty cool if not a bit short... Indonesian receptions only last around two hours!...

Saturday, 11 December 2010

An emotional week: Kuningan, Crying, Secret Santa... and Tony!

So this week has been particularly stressful. I spent last weekend pretty much working, cooking Indonesian food and getting pissed. It was the Christmas Quiz for all the schools in our group so I got bladdered for the first time in ages and spent lots of cash with nothing to show but a sore head and a reawakening to just how shit my general knowledge is ;)... I also met a very busy Indonesian friend who I probably won't get to meet again so I pretty much ended up spending all day Sunday with her getting steaming, eating and going to the cinema. Not very productive but possibly a needed blowout and break from my working routine. Travelling between schools is getting kind of stressful as I'm not at the same school on any two consecutive days. I've also been on the end of a pretty demanding schedule but it's looking a bit calmer now... I hope!


Tuesday was a bank holiday here for the Islamic New Year and myself and another colleague saw it as a perfect opportunity to spend some time in a more social light with our office boys. We decided to hire a car and driver from the school for the day and travel to their village. It's quite a distance from Jakarta, and travelling by road in Java is always a nightmare. This journey was relatively smooth and as we left in the night gave us plenty of time to catch a nap once we had arrived. Relatively smooth in that we didn't die! We got there quickly but our driver Tony is a bit of a space cadet... a lovely bloke but a little bit mental... in a nice way... We arrived in their village around four in the morning and arrived to a wealth of snacks and some coffee. It was a really nice village and I was surprised by how clean and green it was. I was expecting it to be a bit dirtier – as Java is a pretty dirty place – but nonetheless I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong. It was quite funny when Reno – the senior office boy (he gets to drive the motorbike) – apologised in advance for his family's home not being clean and tidy (he must think my Mum is a domestic goddess...); I was also touched by his concern that I wouldn't have access to bread for the day... Bless him, he must think that I walk around with bread on a drip tap like some kind of Kingsmill Zombie!... It was a really nice trip and Reno had nothing to worry about, his family's kindness and hospitality was brilliant and they were really a pleasure to meet. In fact, Reno's Mum's deep fried carp was the only whole crispy deep fried Indonesian fish that I've enjoyed so far. I'd previously heard before that you could chew the bones with relative ease if the fish is cooked properly... it was and I did. So in that regard she hit the nail on the head!...



After breakfast we visited Aldi's parents and had some food there too. We had only just eaten though and were still full from the meal we'd had 10 minutes prior. Indonesian hospitality is somewhat intimidating to the western visitor as the host places a spread in front of you usually including, but not limited to: rice, fish, chicken, vegetables, tempe or tofu, sambal and then coffee water and desert or fruit as well. You have the honour of eating first and in my experience seem to be expected to finish first before the host. Indonesians don't really discuss much when they eat, they just eat, and food is prepared to last the whole day and feed the family in its entirety for at least one meal. So when I say they place a wide variety of food in front of you, what I actually mean is that they place all of the food for the family that day in front of you and it's the unwritten rule that you help yourself to enough of the food to feel satisfied but not too much as to prevent someone else from being able to eat later. Of course, nobody tells you this, so you feel obliged to eat as much as you can because you think that you are being polite!... Cultural differences between Indonesia and the West are vast and often I'm sure I offend many people on a regular basis without realising, but as it's impolite to disrupt the decorum in public nobody will ever tell you or so much as let on that you've offended them, in case they upset you! Sufficed to say I hadn't fallen into the trap of eating too much and managed to make some room for the food Aldi's mother had laid on, a spread of fruit and bread which meant that I could eat more!... The coconut bread she had bought was really nice and I've never seen it before – the brand was the generic Sari Roti and I have great disdain for the sweetened shit they sell as standard bread – but if I find the coconut one I'll probably have a bash the next time I see it in the supermarket!...



The rest of our time in Kuningan was pretty nice – although towards the end of the day we were all tired and not looking forward to the 4+ hour drive home!... We visited a local waterfall called Curug Sidomba and a nice big lake called Waduk Darma. The vibes around the attractions were nice and surprisingly for Java the access was pretty easy. I didn't have to do any trekking! It was quite funny today as I was approached by one of the local street sellers – seems that he goes by the name 'Ketoprak Man' as that's the dish that he so skilfully prepares – and he invited me to his village for the Christmas holidays... I'm not sure if he's looking for a free lift home, to show-off his bule mates or is actually extending a genuine invitation, but I'm already booked-up for Christmas and had to decline! ;)... Aldi must have been boasting when he was sent to buy food for the lazy wankers in the office that abuse him. I hate the demoralising nature of life here if you are a subordinate to anyone as it seems that humilation knows no bounds... they have a doorbell to summon the office boys but no distinctive tone so there is usually a competition between the upstairs and downstairs offices for the attention of the office boys to do whatever mundane chores need attending to. Not only is it degrading but it disrupts lessons when they press it 6-8 times consecutively because they're too important to wait a few seconds between presses!... I appreciate that coffee contains caffeine and is mildly addictive but they act like rich heroin junkies summoning their butlers for a fix!



The rest of the week has flown since then. We had Secret Santa yesterday. That was really nice and Reno and Aldi got a decent present each so I think they had a pretty good week. I did okay, I got a girly pink photo frame with "happy bear" written on it. It's from Aldi and it's a really nice gesture, I've never really been sentimental enough to buy a photoframe so I'm quite happy with it.
After the Secret Santa was over and I was waiting for my lift to the other school in Cengkareng, I bumped into one of my old highflyer students – she's about 9 – and I used to spend a bit of my lesson planning time with her, because she's around the school a lot and a really nice kid. I usually watch some crap on youtube with her which is exactly what we did while I was waiting for the car...
She's such a sweet kid and is usually hanging around the school for eight hours a day before and after lessons, needless to say her parents could do more than leave her in reception for the majority of that time. Just before I left she asked me when I was going to teach her again and told me that she missed me before inviting me to an extracurricular class in two weeks making Christmas Cards that I won't be able to attend... because I'll be working in another part of the city :(... Needless to say I was choking on tears that I was holding back for the 40 minute or so drive to the other school and then had to hide in the toilet until my tears had subsided – or until I thought they had! - she is such a nice kid and it's heartbreaking that she doesn't get the attention she needs and now I can't even give her 20 minutes out of my day. She's the same girl in the birthday cake story. After finally getting over it – or so I thought – I entered the staffroom there to start planning my lessons to find out that I'd been hiding in the ladies toilets and when asked if I was okay I kind of burst into tears again!... I don't cry that often but when I do – mainly when I feel that I'm helpless in a situation – I'm like a fat girl that's just been dumped before she's found the ice cream... or the cookies!!!... It's not all bad though, it is highly likely that I'll have time to visit the school on Christmas eve before I start work in Cengkareng and will try and buy her something nice for Christmas to make her smile...

X


P.S. On the way back from work I had cheered up quite a lot as I'd been teaching some lazy teenagers who were quite funny. During the drive, Tony was being his usual mental self, getting angry and speeding in bumper to bumper traffic while shouting expletives in Indonesian and his own brand of English... "Pucking Motorr!!!"... Loosely translated from Bahasa Tony to English I think it means "Fucking Motorbikes!..."... Normally his craziness doesn't make me laugh that much – as I'm used to it – but during some funk tune that was on one of the Jakarta stations he's into, there was a psychodelic funk song with a sample saying "that dance!" although it sounded exactly like "Bat Man!" from the Adam West show of the 1970s.... So I was howling with laughter for about five minutes while it was playing and he was getting irate and aggressive with half of the traffic in West Jakarta!... I imagine that song to pretty much summarise his entire thought process for the whole day!... After leaving the car and saying bye – still giggling and chuckling – I had a flashback to earlier in the day where I was leaving the car to walk to the school and trying not to cry and Tony just asked with the most vacant of stares "Are you okay mister?"... I've included a photo below so that you can share a little bit of Tony's magic!... I've also included a photo from the halloween party with the wonderful little girl that gets me so emotional...



Sunday, 28 November 2010

Lombok and the Gili Islands

I've just come back from Lombok and a very relaxed holiday. I didn't do anything too demanding and wanted to make a point of relaxing. I've done quite a lot of trekking on my last couple of holidays and on weekends away this year and haven't really taken too much time to just chill out, so that was the theme of my holiday!... It started somewhat differently though as getting there was a little stressful: the school forgot to order my taxi, resulting in me having to flag one down in one of the busiest cities in the world on a Saturday afternoon; my flight was delayed by two hours; and, there were only two boats a day to the island that I wanted to visit first that I had to charter and pay a little over the odds which was ultimately better than waiting seven hours in the harbour being hassled by touts and essentially losing a day of my holiday! Through all the bullshit however, I managed to arrive in the Gili Islands – a small group of islands off the north coast of Lombok – with plenty of time to relax and enjoy the day...

The road to Bangsal – the harbour that is necessary to get to the Gilis – lies about an hour drive away from Mataram and the airport. Once out of Mataram the drive is pretty nice and goes through an area called the Pusuk Pass a small, very green mountain range and the road is strung with long tailed macaque monkeys, and while having a lot of character, they are a bit of a pain in the arse. Of course, I couldn't really resist the opportunity to get so close to a troop of them without taking a photo, so I asked the guy on the ojek to stop and let me take a photo. It was pretty cool because one of them came really close and he was a big one (possibly an alpha male or something). I got some good shots but the monkeys started to get aggressive when they saw that I didn't have any food to give them! Monkeys seem to be nice in exchange for payment!...

My first port of call on the Gili Islands was Gili Meno, the smallest and quietest of the three. As you arrive in the harbour the water is transparent blue colour and the sand white. Nice really, a welcome change from the humdrum of Jakarta!... After refusing to spend double my budget for a hotel room I found one of the hotels that I'd read about and had in mind. The Lonely Planet's information isn't always entirely accurate though and as ever I arrived to be informed that the rooms were more like double those quoted in the Lonely Planet guide. However, I did manage to get a room for the kind of price I was looking for and ended up staying in an open air room! It had a separate hut for showering and making whoopsies and a locker under the bed for valuables. It was a novelty and as I only planned to stay on the island for two nights wasn't much of a problem for me.

I spent my time in Gili Meno snorkelling and reading my book in the little huts set back a few metres from the sea on the edge of the beach. A really relaxing and pleasant experience and a good option for me to avoid sunburn! ;)... I also discovered a knew favourite amongst Indonesian food... Ayam Pelecing! It's essentially baked chicken that has then been deep fried – to make it crispier – and then coated in a delectable sambel (chilli sauce). It's not like me to go for chicken when I know there is fish available but the menus didn't seem to glorify the local fish and the cost was double anything else on the menu in the Gilis, I think because it's the most romantic way to eat on a tropical island. I stuck to fish curries mainly afterwards as they were quite delicious and relatively inexpensive. I've been talking about cost a little, but this is the only holiday in which I've really had to budget because it's getting close to me leaving and taking a month off and moving to another country so while sounding like a tightarse I'm just trying to condition myself to slightly regulating my expenditure, not something I've become accustomed too!...

The sunsets in Gili Air were also quite nice. I had managed to finish my book by the time I'd reached this island so I was forced to just relax and take things in. Although I think that is pretty much what everybody does there – besides diving – upon my arrival in the port I was greeted with the slogan “Do you want weed mushrooms or girls?... We have beer too...”; so I guess people head to the Gilis for a multitude of relaxation methods?... The boat between islands was on time and easy... being relatively pain free is quite the bonus in a country where transport is probably atop the list of greatest luxuries!... I managed to get two sunsets on Gili Air and they were breathtaking. The bonus of Gili Air was that I managed to find a room with a toilet and a door! And it was slightly cheaper... so life was good!...

After four days and nights in the Gilis I felt like I'd had enough time chilling out on the beach and snorkelling and wanted to head to the countryside to see a piece of Lombok that few do – although there must be a few as there are hotels! I caught the boat back to Bangsal early in the morning and headed by motorbike to the sleepy village of Tetebatu in East Lombok. It was nice although the staff at the hotel saw a prime opportunity to flex their Bule price muscles. After bargaining the price of my room and trek down to a reasonable rate I was able to enjoy the slow pace of a quint Sasak village. The first person who greeted me in Tetebatu was an elderly lady who spoke no English, so after showering and checking my bags in I headed to the restaurant, on the way I met a young lad a similar age to me and asked him if it was his mother who I'd previously spoken to... he replied with a confused look on his face and assured me that it was in fact his wife!... On the way to the Jukut waterfall, which was really nice, my guide who also happened to be the same guy decided to confide in me that he wanted to remarry in order to have children as he thought his wife had lied to him about her age... he said that she had a 28 year old son and was still only 39 herself... I told him that I thought she was telling porky pies too... After that he started to talk some random banter that I was only half listening to... but I did manage to catch that he “like my perfume” I was a bit worried but just to let you know that any ladies that are looking for a young Sasak male, insect repellant sweat and suntan lotion are a concoction creating an odour that Sasak males seem to find quite irresistible!... Well one at least... I felt quite uncomfortable around him for the rest of the day...

On my final full day in Tetebatu one of the guides at the hotel had asked me if I'd visit a local school with him. At first I didn't understand his meaning and the last thing I wanted was to start dishing out free English lessons during my time off, which as happened to me before... but once I'd established that it was to visit the school itself and spend some time with underprivileged kids I agreed without hesitation. I had a really nice time. We headed to the school early in the morning and were greeted with smiles throughout the town of Kotaraja which the village where the school is, belongs to. The kids were initially a little shy and curious as to who this fat, white giant before them was – I was about a foot taller than their teacher Pak Ade – they settled and became quite comfortable with me. They asked me questions about various aspects of my life and took plenty of notes. After a short snack they invited me to visit the rice field behind the school – which was really pleasant, visiting the rice fields that is... not lurking behind schools – and they asked me to choose a coconut from one of the trees there. After I'd pointed at a big one, they sent one of the smaller lads up the tree and within seconds he had scooted up and was poking a coconut which eventually fell down. After that another of the boys had a go and finally one of the teachers went up to knock a few off so there was enough for everyone. They just slice the top off with a machete and then poke a hole in it and insert a straw. Throughout the whole experience I was being tailed by a guy with a camcorder as I don't think the poor buggers have ever met a white person before!... I love how curious kids are once they warm to you and it was nice to be out of the classroom in Jakarta and into a rural educational environment. Kids here are always happy despite the poverty that they are being raised in. The things that will stick with me the most I think are the questions of two persistent little girls that wouldn't believe that I was single and with their little quirky grins kept poking the question “Mr... do you have a darling?... TELL THE TRUTH!...” at me for the second part of the visit; and, the reassurance that I had been blessed by god to be able to travel the world and teach and see all these wonderful places. Both struck a chord with me – in the most positive of ways – the first made me realise how wonderfully curious and accepting children can be and the second in a way that helps me to put all this in perspective. I don't believe in a god, but for whatever reason my ancestors and fellow countrymen as well as those of other nations in the west have really managed to create a situation in the world, where they are most comfortable and yet possibly the least content. I rarely read the news back home but I'm almost ashamed when people kick off about the government doing nothing for them for whatever reason the media has seen fit to kick up a stink about that month. These kids are growing up in a country where education is provided for free by the government (one of the few positives of the education system here) but that can mean classes of up to 50 kids and only 1 book per five students. They live in a village without plumbing. They have to grow their own food as the price of luxuries – that I'm sure pretty much all westerners take for granted including myself, such as readily available groceries – are of a similar price to back home, meaning they have no hope of affording them. There is only one decent hospital on the island that pretty much nobody can afford and roads are barely fit to walk on in some villages in bad weather. I really respect the joy of life that the people here are living and I hope that this is an experience I'll remember for a very long time. After the walk in the paddy we returned to the classroom and I played some vocabulary games with the children. Once they had gotten the gist of things – they are mostly taught by chalk and talk from the teacher – they really enjoyed themselves and it was nice... really nice... One of the guys in the harbour in Bangsal while talking to me about language learning uttered the following words “there is no teacher like experience” and for me I think that is true of situations like this... The more I travel and see this country and it's awesome people the more I want to see... I think I've started a personal journey that isn't likely to end soon...

After a lot of personal reflection, my last day in Lombok was spent visiting a couple of Hindu temples. Luckily, I managed to stumble across a Hindu festival amongst the local Balinese worshippers and really got to see some cool stuff. I had no ideas about what was really going on as the “local English speaking guide” at the first temple Pura Lingsar only seemed interested in negotiating a price for his services and spoke terrible English while the second guide was my ojek driver who is a muslim from the local Sasak population. I did get some cool photographs and saw a couple of severed cows heads and hides tied to a tree as a sacrificial offer to the gods and got to meet a cool looking priest described to me as the master of ceremonies... A cool experience, just a shame that I didn't get to engage more with the worshippers themselves as I didn't want to be rude or have an appropriate intermediary. I did stumble across a British couple from Cambridge and while the lady was lovely the guy came across as a bit of a stiff arsed prick, an eloquent and thoughtful verdict I know, but when presented with a sash to ward off evil spirits on this holy day (what I was told anyway), he managed to refuse about 3-4 times before giving in to keep his girlfriend happy. I was a little annoyed that he couldn't just respect the customs of a temple when standing in the middle of it during worship... not much to ask really considering you only have to tie a yellow sash around your waist!...



X



P.S. Sleep tight Grandma Devine... 


Thursday, 11 November 2010

"You're Mum's So Hot I Can't Handle It"...

The past couple of weeks I've been working between schools. I'm currently being loaned out to one of our sister schools three days a week. It's quite nice in as much that it breaks up the week and isn't so bad as it's quite close – about a 20-30 minute drive. That being said it has started to tire me out, despite time flying!...

Before the whole 'semi-transfer' situation that happened last Monday, I bumped into a student from the school in one of the local supermarkets shopping with her parents. I don't hold them in high regard really as they don't pay much attention to her. The three days that she attends our school she is usually dropped off a couple of hours early and picked up three or four hours after class. In my opinion that is neglect especially of one so young being left to her own devices in the reception area of the school. Despite all this she is always happy and very friendly, resulting in her following me around the supermarket speaking English and giving me advice on the local produce ;)... After a few minutes she informed me that she was really excited because it was her birthday, her 8th birthday to be precise. I then asked if she received any presents and she just giggled and said: “no... just food to eat with my family”... That was the point where my heart broke. It sounds a little extreme but most kids – back home at least, especially those considered rich by relative standards, which she is – are usually spoiled on their birthdays. I know that I've certainly got nothing to complain about from my past. To be fair to her she was just happy that she'd turned eight and had her usual big smile. I was a bit pissed off that all her parents could think to do for her was take her to the bloody supermarket to do the weekly food shopping. Whilst she was accompanying me, we stumbled across some cakes and I asked her which one she liked the most. She pointed at some big chocolate chip chiffon cake that cost around a quid. After making sure she found her parents again I covertly made my way back to the cake stand and bought it for her. I made sure she got to share it with her class on the Monday morning and had a little fuss about the occasion... hopefully a nice surprise and all it cost was a quid! Bless...

The last couple of weeks have just started to take their toll. I'm currently working 6 day weeks alternating days between two different schools. It's not so bad though because Fridays I get to start late and finish early. I have been teaching a group of teenagers at the new school that are pretty typical really. What I mean is that they are a bit lazy and difficult to enthuse. They turn up late and look for excuses to slack off. All in all they are pretty nice, they just need to be motivated in the right way I think. I do lots of group work with them and they generally respond. While doing one activity I decided it would be funny to pair the weird kid and the pretty girl in the class. Sufficed to say within about 5 minutes I had to separate them as the weird kid had been trying to touch her legs! He may have even had mild success... After explaining that it wasn't okay to touch women without their permission I managed to get them engaged in an activity where they had to design their own ideal society. During which time I was asked if his 'national dish' and therefore perfect food could be “vegetable pizza with sperm”... I responded slightly aghast and suggested that he drop the semen from his menu ;)... Kids here are really nice but I think they can be a little sheltered and therefore display some weird habits. Ultimately I guess the odd weirdo crops up in all circles and as a teacher you are exposed to them when they are still innocent. I don't like to judge as none of us were born perfect...

While finishing my last class of young teenagers before I head on holiday to Lombok and the Gili Islands, I noticed one of my students had not only finished his work but had managed to contribute some extra thoughts in writing. He left me a little note stating – an exact quote - “you're mum's so hot I can't handle it”... that's not a bad jibe from a thirteen year old. Especially an Indonesian who isn't exposed to that kind of banter. I couldn't let it stand just there though so I took it to some of the other teachers and he followed me quite embarrased... I'm not sure if he's just a tad odd or if it was intended as a joke. He appeared to be in a day dream when I took it from him! Of course the situation could just be that he's a bit weird and actually does have a particular MILF in mind... not mine I hope as I'm not sure I'm comfortable describing her as such!... In actual fact I've just shuddered ;)... sorry mummy!

I'll cut it short there as the next time I'll post will be an update of my holiday in Lombok and the Gili Islands!...

Peace x

Saturday, 23 October 2010

A whole lot of nothing really...

Since arriving back in Jakarta from Sumatra I have been pretty laid back. I'm happy with my classes at the moment - touch wood - and I'm quite looking forward to the next few months. I've got another couple of trips lined up to Lombok and Yogyakarta although I may head through to Bali from Yogya to make the trip a little more interesting. After those trips there will only be a month left on my contract, so I'm still contemplating exactly what I want to do. Hopefully I'll be able to make a trip to Thailand for a week or so and then spend roughly a month travelling around Flores and West Timor. Once all that is done it's looking like my next stop may be Taiwan. I've had an interview already which I think went well and I've applied for a couple of other jobs and had relatively positive feedback. Part of me wants to just have everything lined up, planned and ready to go and another part of me wants to see how things pan out. Nevermind. Good things will come of it all I'm sure...

One of my primary motivations for writing this post is to highlight the surreal normality that is living in Jakarta. I realise that's somewhat of an oxymoron and a little confusing but let me enlighten you. While visiting my local HSBC cashpoint I noticed that the security guard was asleep, this resulted in me being very careful as not to wake him, not so much because I wanted to avoid waking him but due to his less than cautious grip of his machine gun! Probably the last person I would want to startle really, hey ho I withdrew my Rupiah and nobody got hurt... or woken up!

I've almost got a grip on teaching younger learners - or ensuring they're not bored in class anyway - and this has resulted in me teaching more 'lifeclubs' where they do arts and crafts. These are encouraged because they are extra-curricular and the school makes more money. While being a break from teaching teenagers they can be a bit of a ballache. I had two lifeclubs this week. One of them went relatively smoothly and I was provided with adequate assistance of sorts. We were carving pumpkins for halloween. I was shitting it when this was first assigned to me because I didn't really fancy a class room full of young kids and a knife! Needless to say we managed it, the kids designed their pumpkins, drew on them and everything was dandy... until the carving! I was given a 'carving knife' which was little sharper than a butter knife with a broken handle! Luckily Indonesians are experienced at bodging stuff and so the office girl who was assisting me called for backup. She did little more than leave the classroom and start shouting "Aldi!... Aldi!" - his name is synonomous with fixing problems - unluckily her first attempt didn't prise him away from one of his other million tasks for the day. Eventually she went downstairs - to the third floor - and tapped the doorbell that has been installed whenever the important people upstairs need a whim attended to. Luckily this alerted Aldi like a dog to a whistle and he was on the case! Yes... after about fifteen minutes of 'carving' - in reality poking holes in a pumpkin with a blunt knife missing a handle - Aldi had worked his magic and the pumpkins were carved! I'm really impressed with his handywork. The kids got their pumpkins carved and painted and they look pretty cool now! All I really did was blow raspberries and feign high fives for an hour and a half but I could think of worse jobs.... like Aldi's!... He's the junior officeboy and consequently gets abused.


One of my colleagues has been off in the sun to Timor for a week to get engaged to his new fiance - congratulations Justin - resulting in me covering one of his classes. I'm glad to say he's back and that I don't have to teach them anymore. Only due to one kid, who has earlier been referred to here as 'pornkid', he really freaks me out. He's not unpleasant exactly... just really strange!... He's only eight and really intelligent... he just doesn't really talk!... Two things happened this week - one in each lesson - the first being a simple vocab game. I set ten letters on the board in an activity at the end of the lesson to kill some time. There were three vowels and even consonants. I gave the kids ten minutes to make as many words as they can. Clever little dude that he is made thirty one in ten minutes... that's more than a word every twenty seconds!... I decided that the winner would receive a fizzy drink at the end of the lesson so the kids would be interested. Due to this student's lack of normality I think his parents probably steer clear of sugar... So when presented with a choice of six soft drinks I asked him what he wanted... after what felt like a minute he looked up at me and said "milk"... I had to dissapoint him and tell him that the school fridge isn't stocked with milk, so he then, reluctantly, settled for lemon fanta! The second lesson was even stranger - bear in mind that this kid is eight years old and has plenty of time to get weirder - as I started my warmer and asked him to contribute he just stared into thin air. Next I managed to get him to contribute to the game, which he now did willingly and somewhat over enthusiastically, but instead of writing the name of a country he drew a football... I was a little confused and asked him to sit down again. Later in the lesson he had to write about his best friend using certain character adjectives from the book, unfortunately for me another child in the class informed me that "Fernando doesn't have a friend"... This made me feel a little sorry for him, but as soon as I saw what he had written for the exercise I wasn't anything but convinced that he needs help. He wrote a diatribe about his "best friend the football" and then above it had drawn a picture of another unrelated imaginary friend named "Swamp Monster"... he had included a speech bubble with this one and included the line: "Fernando is cool you must obey him or Swamp Monster will eat you..."... I realise this may not sound as bad as I'm making it sound and that kids are free to have overactive imaginations but he is eerily creepy and I'm happy to have my smallstars back!... Another amusing anecdote included in that class was - when writing about friends and their hobbies - one of the kids decided to write "Mr Lee's hobby is eating."... Just going to prove that no matter how much weight I lose or exercise I do this year I'm always going to be a fatty to them!


Finally I'd like to include an excerpt from one of my business classes. I have been teaching business classes on a Saturday morning recently and they are quite intense for the students as they are four hours long. To break up the monotony I have taken to using the last hour as a chance for discussion or lighthearted activity. This week we put together a Puri Indah edition of Dragons' Den. It went quite well really but this kind of tops off the surrealty flavour of this post. When presented with a proposition for Indonesia's first casino I asked these particular students how they would get the Indonesian government onside and legalise gambling, I was presented with the perfectly serious and honest answer of "we'll just bribe them and pay the mafia to pull some strings...".... I'm still a little amused by that one now. This guy is in his twenties or something. I guess business here probably is still quite openly corrupt...

Peace xxx

Monday, 18 October 2010

Sumatra


I arrived in Tangkahan - the first stop of my Sumatra holiday - in the jungle of Gunung Leuseur National Park. It took 4 hours by bus from Medan and was raining. Four hours on an Indonesian bus can be a somewhat grueling experience. After politely but firmly refusing an invite to stay with a local lady I arrived at the village of Tangkahan. It was raining and I was very tired, but all the same - after having to have my picture taken with about 20 of the local girls - I was happy to have arrived! To enter the village you have to cross the river via a raft. It is a rather warm and humble experience and a lot more pleasurable that crossing the street in Jakarta of a busy evening! The first night I did very little but have a rest and eat, although I was politely approached by the waiter in the guest house restaurant and informed - as simultaneously he delicately removed it - that I was being fed upon by a leech! It was okay though as it was this that made me realise I was in the jungle again!
While eating dinner I had arranged my activities for the next day. The village is famous for its' elephant camp. This camp acts as a staging ground for patrols of the national park. The elephants are used to cover larger distances quickly and patrol the borders of the park on a twice-weekly basis. I guess then, that this is also partly funded by tourism. While waiting for the elephants and trainers to make their way down to the river, I sat with some of the locals in a warung next to the camp. While sitting there some of the local girls were giggling and my met one of my favourite Indonesians ever. Sat there was a lady of about 50-60 years in hysterics and apparently elated with the amount of hair on my arms and legs! After a cacophony of cackles and calls of "Bulu", which I think means body hair, I joined the elephants at bath time in the Batengserangan river. I also had a ride of one called Youni. Youni was the elephant I infact spent all of my time in awe of. She is only a young elephant - about 20 years old - but she has great character. While all the other elephants were busy behaving and being inspected after toilet time - Youni had slipped away discretely for a quiet snack. Her mahout (trainer guy) just smiled and said "she's always eating", with this I realised that she was an elephant after my own heart and almost fell in love with her!... I had a great chat with her trainer who spoke in English with the odd interjection of Indonesian to clarify matters. It was a pretty cool experience and I even got a kiss from Youni! Something that I'll probably never forget!



After lunch I was ready for some more fun and took part in some tubing with a local guide. He didn't really speak any English - while also not being very chatty - so we spent most of our time on the river communicating with grunts and shrieks at approaching the next rapid and getting wetter. For those that aren't familiar with tubing, it is essentially like rafting but instead you sit in the innertube of a tractor tyre, pretty good fun! We managed to make it into a small inlet and floated to the Galugur waterfall. It was really nice and entirely secluded, we had the whole place to ourselves!  I love the feeling of serenity and calm that comes with nothing but hearing the sound of pounding water against rock. Something about it really strikes a chord of peace and contentment within me... afterwards we continued tubing down the rapids of the river and then walked back a few kilometres to the village. When we arrived back in the village we visited a smaller waterfall and a very small hotspring. Had it not been a Sunday it would have been a lot more peaceful - as the local tourists from Medan would not have invaded the easily accessible facilities of the village - in this case the hotspring. This meant I shared the hotspring with a lot of Indonesians and was subjected to the routine "Hello mister" question and answer routine but all in all didn't really mind because the spring was pleasurable enough after a long day!



The next day was time to leave Tangkahan and make my way to Bukit Lawang. Bukit Lawang is famous throughout Indonesia for it's huge orangutan population. There are only two islands left in the world where orangutans can be found in their natural habitat - Sumatra and Borneo - so the opportunity to see them was probably a once in a lifetime for me. I met my guide at a hotel and checked in pretty early in the morning. Because it had taken around two and a half hours to get to Bukit Lawang we had a relaxed day planned. First thing we did was head to a bat cave. After temporarily breaking my camera in Ujung Kulon - and therefore not being able to take any pictures of the bat cave there - I was quite happy to have the opportunity to photograph this one. The cave was quite slippery and had many rocks but overall was pretty cool. Afterwards we walked through the village to the feeding platform.

The feeding platform is the product of a successful repopulation program set up in the 1970s to boost the number of orangutans in the wild. Alongside the eco-tourism that has grown alongside the program the jungle has successfully been repopulated. This repopulation or rehabilitation has resulted in the term of 'semi-wild' orangutans and has received some flak on internet travel forums towards Bukit Lawang. In all fairness the 'true travellers' that do head into Aceh or Kalimantan to get a 'truly wild' experience do run the risk of not seeing any orangutans at all. I wanted to give myself the best chance of seeing them in the jungle, so I chose to see them in the place giving me the best chance to see them in the jungle. The feeding platform then, is where rangers of the Gunung Leuser National Park feed newly rehabilitated orangutans. Fortunately there is a small platform from where tourists can view the feeding and have an opportunity to take a photo. The only unfortunate thing is having to bump your way through a few tourists to get a photo. I found myself having bitter feelings towards an old man as he had decided to set up his tripod camera right at the front of the platform obscuring the view for about 50% of the other tourists... I put it down to him being fat and old and incapable of completing a jungle trek to see them in a more natural setting. I was happy with the experience at the feeding platform though as a mother orangutan with her baby crawled straight past the fat old man and climbed a tree on a small hill behind the viewing platform. Luckily all the old people - including fat tripod man - were incapable, or too lazy, to climb the hill and get a closer look. I managed to get about 5 metres away and was quite happy with that although now I was looking forward to getting into the jungle to see some swinging around on their own. I was however quietly amused at the end of the session, when the tourist horde had left, when a troop of long-tailed macacques invaded the platform areas to liberate the scraps of banana left over from the orangutans!...



The next day, before we set off into the jungle, Sabar my guide sat me down and explained about one orangutan in particular that he didn't want to bump into. The Lonely Planet guide describes her as 'the notorious Mina' and apparently she bites and chases tourists to steal the fruit that they take into the jungle. We had been walking in the jungle for an hour and a half and suddenly one of my guides rushed off ahead after making a noise - monkeyesque... - and then Sabar said "we've found an orangutan"... what was even better was that we had found two. A mother, who really wasn't bothered by my presence, and an adolescent who decided to throw sticks at me when I was trying to take a photo!... After about 10 minutes if being in the company of the orangutans, it felt like it was time to move on because we had bumped into a group of tourists who obviously wanted to take some photos. I realise that Bukit Lawang is not the remotest jungle in which to see orangutans in their natural environment but I'm satisfied. I have been in remoter jungles without seeing another tourist for a few days, but I've also never been that close to an orangutan either. After another 6 hours of walking, 5 in the jungle and 1 through a rubber plantation we arrived at a place called the Landak River.

The Landak River was beautiful an serene. It had slow running water trickling through rocks and you could see your feet at the bottom when you paddled in it. What was even nicer was that the place is untouched by the relative tourist hordes of Bukit Lawang and has only a few huts from what I could tell. It was great we slept on the upper level of a wooden hut, in the open air with macacques and thomas leaf monkeys swinging around in the trees. The hut we stayed in is the permanent residence of a local called Hendro. Apparently his dad is one of the first tourist guides in the area and so he knows the jungle of the area very well. Hendro was a fascinating person to speak to... albeit when we could understand each other, as both of our language skills in the opposing tongue are somewhat skewered. I did find out - with the assistance of Sabar - that he patrols the area alone to protect the local orangutan population from illegal logging. He doesn't get paid for it, but is more than content. He sees it as a much more attractive option than making a life from tourism or once again patrolling the border of Aceh as a soldier. He chooses to live in the Batu Kapal area - besides the river - and patrols the jungle that the majority of tourist probably never see!... We stayed at his gaff and had a saltfish stew with rice and sambal, I'm not sure whether it was the romance of being on the edge of the jungle with a running river and eating food that had been cooked over an open fire or whether the food was just delicious, but it was one of the best meals I had eaten in a very long time!




After trekking back to the main village I showered picked up the rest of my stuff and then headed for the bus station. After 5 hours and two buses I arrived in Berastagi. It was late and I was a bit grumpy but after finding my guesthouse easily I decided to head to the top of a popular local hill to catch sunset behind Mt. Sinabung. Sinabung is a volcano that had only just stopped erupting. It became active again after 400 years and decided to stop just before I had planned to visit the Berastagi area... luckily!... The sunset was nice and once I had arrived back at the hotel for my evening meal I spoke to one of the staff to arrange a trip to the other volcano in the area, Mt. Sibayak.



Sibayak was really nice, we could hear gibbons in the jungle as we walked up the track to the top of the mountain. On the way up I was asking my guide Pak Karim - who from now will be referred to as Captain Dinkus - about the recent eruption of Mt. Sinabung. He told me that it was now safe and that we could attempt it the next day if I liked... forgetting to inform me that half the track may well be missing as he hasn't climbed it since the three new craters emerged!... My faith in his common sense was now somewhat frayed and I was now a little worried while at the summit of an active volcano in the abilities of my 'guide'... He was a nice man at heart but a little dumb. The crater of Mt. Sibayak was really cool, it smelt pretty bad, as did the one at Tangkuban Perahu in Bandung the last time I visited a volcano. I ate lunch on the edge of the caldera and it is a pretty invigorating feeling. I don't know why - as it reeks of an odour that can only be described as a hybrid of popcorn and farts - I think it's the sulphur!...  I guess it must be experienced to be understood. On the way down, Captain Dinkus had informed me that we would be taking stairs. What he failed to inform me is that these stairs were around what felt like a kilometre from the crater and across rocks and loose scree! Not the safest stretch of 'path' I've ever walked but at least these steps do exist. Captain Dinkus also failed to inform me that some of the steps were non-existant or had faded away as they were over a century old and were in almost daily use!... I'm okay I didn't tumble to my doom and despite the efforts of the Captain I really enjoyed the climb!



When I arrived back I was beat. I got talking to a Dutch lady and she was really nice and we spoke about some of the cool places she has been to. While I was talking one of the hotel staff asked me if I would mind talking to her 'friend' for twenty minutes. I reluctantly agreed as this was a chance - I guess - for her to practice her English. This quick chat rapidly turned into a full-blown English lesson once I realised that she was copying notes out of her text book for me to mark... once I realised what was happening I helped the girl out by playing some memory games as her knowledge of the vocab with which she was dealing was almost non-existant. I was a little annoyed with the lady at the hotel though as she didn't inform me that she was the local English teacher and was charging the girl, who was not her friend at all but one of her students! I did quite enjoy the teaching though and it was completely of the cuff and relatively successful which made me feel pretty good!



The next day I had organised a guide and a motorbike to see some waterfalls and a traditional village to get a look around the area. Unfortunately I think Captain Dinkus had informed the staff at the hotel that we had built some kind of a rapport, resulting in him being my guide for that day as well!... After a short trek to Sikulikap waterfall we visited one that I've been looking forward to seeing for quite a long time. We arrived at Sipiso-piso waterfall and it was beautiful. Although Captain Dinkus thought it was better that he wait by the motorbike while I walk to the waterfall alone!!!... He was very concerned about theives in the area but didn't has never heard of a fabulous new invention called the d-lock! Nevermind, I walked to a hut that had a perfect viewing point of the waterfall and stayed there, away from Dinkus for about an hour. I then decided to walk back and have dinner in one of the local warungs. On the return leg we stopped off to see Dokan village where houses can be seen of traditional Batak-Karo design. They were pretty cool but it is debatable whether they were worth enduring Captain Dinkus's complete lack of skill in riding a motorbike. I'm certainly rubbish at riding a motorbike, but after living in Jakarta I have been accustomed to being a passenger on one... I can safely say that Dinkus has the worst skill at changing gears on a motorbike of any Indonesian that I've had the pleasure to ride with... it was almost painful! After arriving back at the hotel I was very tired from the volcano the day before and Dinkus' motorbike escapades didn't exactly serve to energise me! What put the cherry on the cake of Dinkus services - which were terrible and yet very well paid considering - he still managed to find time to ask for a tip!... I was amused and just left him to it after reluctantly thanking him for his time.



My final stop was on my trip to Sumatra was Lake Toba. I arrived in good time and was caught the ferry to Samosir island by around 2pm after the final day of the Captain Dinkus show!... I met a German guy called Marco en route and we managed to avoid the few touts there. He had a tip to stay at some good accommodation called the hotel reggae, that sold it to me straight away! I was quite happy and really calmed by the vibes of the lake. I got on quite well with one of the lads at the hotel called Jonny. After a fish curry dinner with Marco we went on a little recce around the village of Tuk Tuk and stumbled across a performance by a traditional Batak-Toba band. They were pretty cool, but were all steaming from drinking Tuak... the locally produced palm wine! We got chatting to some other lads from Sweden and Chile and proceeded to see another band, who were knocking out Bob Marley and Inner Circle covers, at a place called Roy's Pub! After that we visited the famous blues bar and bumped into Jonny and the boys from the hotel. A nice night!




My head the next day was sore! I had my first hangover in quite a while. I decided to sit on my balcony for quite a long period and just take up the relaxing atmosphere of the lake.  By that point I had made up my mind that I wanted to relax at the end of my holiday. This meant that I'd made a conscious decision not to push myself beyond enjoying the peaceful vibes of the lake and it's indigenous community. I made my way to the hotel bar at about 3 pm and Jonny invited me to visit a small waterfall with him. I asked if it was difficult and he assured me that it was very easy. We took his motorbike and headed for the hills. After parking the bike we started walking uphill - and due to the heat and alcohol consumption of the night before - I was pissing with sweat. After about ten minutes of walking past different plots of various vegetables and palm-wine 'taps' - I can't think of a better word - we got to the trailhead for the waterfall. While walking to the trailhead we encountered a FUCKING COBRA! It must have been hunting mice or something in the long grass of one of the plots but as it heard our footsteps it hightailed it however its' escape route was on a collision course with me so I legged it and cacked my pants. Moments when you encounter dangerous wild animals like that are strange you don't really have time to panic you just instinctively freezr or get out of the way... I was a little alarmed now. I agreed to proceed to the waterfall regardless and continued along the trail. After about 30 minutes of walking slowly, I slipped over. The fall was unexpected. I had been making my way across wet rocks and had been fine. I slipped as the thin dusty mud under my feet gave in to my body weight!... I was okay though and managed not to fall fifty-odd feet into the river below. I did however abandon the walk after continually pissing with sweat and after arriving at a 7 foot high rock wall. I didn't have the desire or energy to continue and after the happenings of the previous hour or so thought that I just wasn't enjoying it any more. Instead we walked back to the bike and headed to Perhalu village to enjoy a panoramic view of the lake and surrounding hills. It was very pleasant and a nice way to end the day.




My final full day at the lake and penultimate day in Sumatra was mostly spent reading my book on the balcony enjoying the breeze coming off the lake and two trips to a local restaurant that sold freshly barbecued lake fish! I had wanted to eat fish from the lake for the first couple of days but hadn't got round to looking for any. The first restaurant I went to said that they did indeed sell fish from the lake itself. I asked him what he had in and he said "tuna". I informed him that tuna wasn't a freshwater fish... he then went on a huge sales pitch about how this fish was special because it was fresh in from Sibolga... I then asked him again: "do you have fish from the lake?" and he said "not today"... So I thanked him for his time politely and left. The next place that I saw advertising lake fish was also a pain, I walked in and the owner was asleep on one of the tables, I decided not to disturb his slumber and left. I walked for a few more minutes and found a small little hut with a few tables and a few customers that advertised lake fish. I asked the owner, who is presumably the namesake of the restaurant "Jenny", if they had fresh Lake Toban fish and she answered yes. The restaurant had a nice enough view of the lake and was open so that it caught the breeze, the restaurant also had a nice welcoming vibe as Jenny took my order herself with her baby asleep in a sling and then walked in the back and cooked my sweet and sour fish herself. It was delicious and so simply cooked just served a little steamed rice. In fact I enjoyed it so much that I went back for dinner too! I ate a barbecued fish with a lemongrass and garlic paste the second time and it was even tastier, the fish was called Tomba, but as I can speak no Batak beyond the word for welcome - "Horas!" - that is pretty useless to me except for the knowledge that it's delicious!...

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Ujung Kulon National Park

When I finished work on Tuesday I had been contemplating all day whether or not to leave for Ujung Kulon during the night. It is around 10-12 hours from Jakarta on public transport depending how lucky you are. This isn't due to distance but the lack of good roads and amount of people using them. Finally I decided that it was a good idea to leave during the night so I jumped in a taxi at 9pm and headed to Kalideres bus station. After repeatedly asking the conductor if the bus was going to Labuan, which was where I needed to make the change, he reaffirmed that it was the correct bus... he was a liar! About an hour into the journey I realised I was heading to the northern seaport of Merak and I wanted to be heading west. Luckily I realised and changed on a bus for Labuan at the intermediary station of Serang. After all the bullshit with the buses I arrived in a place called Kampung Toronggong which is around 1km from Labuan at 1am. I was late for the last connecting bus to Sumur which was where I needed to go. I ended up waiting at a warung - small 'restaurant' - with a few of the locals who were preparing for the day ahead by eating before daylight hours. After a few ojek drivers had tried to make some money out of me by quoting ridiculous prices to go to Sumur they finally got the message that I was waiting for the bus. During the three and a half hours I had to wait for the bus I became acquainted with a few of the locals and started chatting and joking with them in Indonesian. I remember calling one guy a midget and ribbing another one for his teeth. They were really cool in the end and waited with me at the bus stop and even stopped the bus for me and made sure I was charged the correct price. It was nice to meet them but finally I was on my way to Ujung Kulon!



I arrived in Sumur at around 7am Wednesday morning and found the hotel rather easily with the help of a local ojek driver who charged me a very reasonable price to get there. I felt bad though because I misheard him and thought he was trying to charge me 10x the amount he actually said. So after a sincere apology I finally got some sleep and was ready to start my holiday!...



At 3pm I met my first guide Hendra - who couldn't speak much English - he took me on a trek around the Sumur area and had a habit of repeatedly saying "come on mister, come on"... it made me feel like a dog!... The first stop on the small trek was to a bat cave - not the one frequented by Batman and Robin in the '70s show - but a cool one none the less. As I reached into my bag to take a picture I realised I had spilt drinking water allover my camera... I was a bit pissed off! Otherwise the bat cave was cool, you could see thousands of bats flying around and Hendra shined a torch at the roof of the cave, swaying it to project a kind of flicker affect off the bats' wings - it was pretty cool. After we came to a small waterfall, which was nice, but ultimately required me to walk through a river/stream. After a while we came to another waterfall about 6 feet high. The problem was that we were at the top and the only way to get down was to clamber but it wasn't possible to jump because the water was shallow at the bottom. Inevitably I fell off and right on my arse in a small pool of water, cutting my hand. It was okay though and after a few minutes the cuts had stopped bleeding and we got back to the hotel pretty smoothly managing to spot a wild boar and a few monkeys swinging around in the trees but no photos! Luckily Hendra managed to get my camera fixed in the village and it works as well as it did before minus a flash. Not bad considering really.



On the way to Taman Jaya - a village closer to the main tract of jungle - I managed to break the motorbike I was being given a lift on. Luckily there was another one and we made it to the village in time to meet the guide that I would be spending the next three days with and the captain of the boat that was taking us to Handeleum island and the Cigenter river. Prior to the boat journey I had asked to see a small hotspring near the village, as I had yet to see a natural hotspring in Indonesia. It was cool and a pleasant spot to relax at for half an hour sheltered by forest with a calm atmosphere intermittently broken by the sound of a bird chirping or a monkey banging around. Handeleum island was cool there were lots of deer there and we picked up the canoe to take to the Cigenter river that starts on the mainland opposite the island. We were canoeing for a short while when the guides stopped the canoe next to a tree. I couldn't really see anything at first but then I noticed a snake that had wrapped itself around a branch. It was pretty cool and according to the guides - from what I understood in my limited Indonesian -  it was a juvenile python. I was pretty happy with that the local name is 'sanca bodo'. About ten minutes later we stopped again and for the first few seconds I had no idea why... after a few "Mr.. Mr.. Lihat" in a whispering tone I heard and saw a huge splash, as a 3 metre crocodile launched itself into the river in front of the canoe! I don't really know how to describe the feeling... it happened too quickly to shit myself but there was a long pause of tension and anticipation as to what might happen next! I didn't really fancy being dinner! Luckily the crocodile was as weary of us as we were of it and stayed still camouflaged in the water opposite the canoe... I managed to get a photo but only of the top of its' head breaking the surface of the water watching us. That was an incredible experience. Afterwards we left to head back to the village with a quick stop for snorkelling although I couldn't really see much as it was a little late in the day and the vision wasn't good - combined with a relatively rough sea - it didn't provide the ideal environment in which to snorkel. The funniest thing about snorkeling was climbing in the boat afterwards... it took me ages! First of all I wasn't able to climb over the high sides of the boat. Second of all the guides couldn't pull me back in! It appeared I was stuck! Finally - after about ten minutes of struggling and failing - the captain of the boat found his ladder!... I was just relieved to be able to climb back on the boat and set off for Taman Jaya. We got there in time for sunset and slowly but surely were rowed back to shore.



My second day in the national park marked the eve of Lebaran. This is a festival, which I lack much awareness of, and coincidentally can only really describe it as Christmas for muslims. Not as in they have Osama Bin Laden style Santa Clauses or anything but that it is the holiest time of year for them. With that in mind I agreed to spend the night in the village of Taman Jaya for my second night so that my guide could attend the mosque with his family. I slept on a matress on the floor in their living room. It was a really pleasant meal and I was treated really well. I was fed something along the lines of chicken's foot soup with rice, sambal, beef and fish. It was really good. They looked after me well and even went as far as sending the oldest daughter outside to shut up the neighbours banging their drums in celebration. I didn't really mind the noise but the daughter went as far as throwing stones to ensure that I had a good sleep.



I woke up to the sound of cockerill's crowing in the morning. That's something I'm not really used to. There aren't many chickens running around in Jakarta! I also really needed the toilet. After realising the night before that Pak Sully's house - a bamboo hut essentially - didn't have a bathroom, resulting in having to wash from a bucket near the village well, the lack of plumbing posed somewhat of a problem... where did I go to the toilet?!... Ultimately, after a while talking to Pak Sully about the possibility of making whoopsie, he got the gist of what I was saying and took me for a walk. This walk took me to the Kepala Desa's abode. The Kepala Desa is essentially the village mayor or chief depending how you look at it. After a brief chat with the head of the village I was able to take a poo! It was relieving until afterwards, on the way back to Pak Sully's house I unintentionally snapped a piece of wood that was acting as a bridge over a small stream and nearly fell in!



Eventually ten o'clock came and I was able to leave Taman Jaya to head to Karang Ranjang - a deserted beach where turtles lay their eggs. The 10km hike to Karang Ranjang started with an hours walk through rice paddies and the village of Ujung Jaya. After a few hello misters and a few more fields we were in the jungle. I saw a monkey high in the trees but it was too quick to get a photo of. After an hour or so of walking through the jungle we came to an estuary where the river had a very shady looking bamboo bridge. I was absolutely shitting myself - not really because I was scared to fall in - but because I'd broken a flyover a stream and nearly written off my camera within the last two days! I managed to hobble over the bridge without getting wet and my camera was fine!... Although I did nearly fall in so I'm not quite Tarzan yet! The path for the next hour was pretty good too and it skirted an absolutely pristine piece of coastline deserted and seemingly untouched by man. I was really happy and managed to spot a small lizard on a broken tree that was laying on the beach. My guide - Pak Sully - had managed to get us lost and had forgotten the way. Although it was only for ten minutes or so and he came back very happy to realise where he had made the mistake and found the route again. We bumped into some Dutch tourists on the path and they seemed very nice. We then came to the second river on the route - but this time there was no bridge! Happily I waded through the sea in the estuary and got waist deep. Although it was cold it was fine and I soon dried. A little further on, the trail started to get slippy and very muddy and soon I was wading ankle deep in mud. About half an hour from Karang Ranjang Pak Sully stopped me and told me that we had just found the footprints of a Javan Rhino! These are one of the most endangered species in the world and there are possibly only fifty left in the world! That was the closest I would get to seeing one but I was happy to know that one couldn't have been too far away!



I was both impressed and disappointed when we arrived at Karang Ranjang. The waves were huge and powerful and for that reason, alongside its remoteness it has the potential to be one of the most impressive beaches in Java. I was hoping for big things of the trip to Karang Ranjang when we were trekking there but unfortunately it suffers from pollution that washes in from Jakarta. This is the impact that pollution from a city the size of Jakarta can have, it manages to affect places as far as 200km away! I really wish the government would take the initiative and realise the potential of wonderful places such as Ujung Kulon! All they would have to do is commission someone to cleanup the 5km of coastline at Karang Ranjang to make it one of the most beautifu beaches in all of Java... but they don't, even though there is a rangers' station 30 seconds from the beach! The rangers' station was locked and abandoned for Lebaran when we got there but fortunately we managed to build a fire and cook nasi goreng on a pan my guide had brought along. Later we built a fire and left on a short walk along the beach to see if we could find some turtles with there nests and eggs. Unfortunately this wasn't to be. We had already erected the tent and the guide started to build the fire - in the dark - when we heard rustling. A small man appeared and shined a small torch beam our way. He was in his fifties and from Depok near Jakarta. He told us that he would open the rangers' station for us. I presumed he had a key... Instead he picked the nails that were sealing the windows and climbed in proceeding to open the door for us and showing us to our bamboo beds for the evening.



We woke up early had nasi goreng again and then headed along the road to Taman Jaya after a short walk on the beach. The way back was the same route as before so I knew what to expect and we made good time. Along the way we paused briefly to avoid upsetting a boar that we could hear scuttling around and grunting. We also stopped to try and catch a view of another monkey but he got away too quickly after a lot of squawking. Along the way back to Taman Jaya I was greeted by a barage of "Hello Misters" and a very well prepared meal of fish, rice, vegetables and sambal. While waiting for the prearranged ojek from Captain Samshou's son I was the chief attraction in Taman Jaya harbour. Obviously the locals were intrigued by me and a few children were sitting and staring at the warung opposite the house I was waiting. On of the girls very kindly gave me some water and lontong while I waited. After waiting for forty minutes or so I heard a shout of "bule" and then another, and then another and suddenly it became a chant! About 25 children appeared to stare at me. The chanting stopped and the children were just smiling waiting for me to do something. Some of the older children were pushing their younger brothers and sisters closer to me to scare them, one of the poor kids, who was probably about two burst into tears. I took a photo of them and blew a few raspberries and that seemed to appease them until an old lady shoed the children off and showed to the porch of her neighbour where my next ojek would arrive to pick me up for the trip back to Sumur. I was then provided with a coffee and some biscuits whilst waiting. A cockerill from the village decided to attack a hen and this resulted in it having to chase the hen in order to peck her. The hen decided to take a brief refuge on my neck but was soon knocked off her newly found perch!... Finally a replacement ojek turned up and I was taken back to a meal of freshly baked fish and a nice warm bed and mandi (bucket of water in this case).

Saturday, 4 September 2010

7 months in Indonesia

This week has marked my first seven months in Indonesia. It has been interesting so far and I'm happy to say that I've enjoyed it for the most part. I've just decided to accept life here at its own pace and take things as they come. The students here are cool for the most part and if you get by the issues of lateness and laziness then all is fine. Sometimes though the extremity of lateness or laziness can be beyond frustrating and even astounding... I had a student turn up late on Thursday, she was nearly two hours late for a two hour lesson! Although she smiled and was really happy about it and just gave me some bullshit excuse about being stuck in traffic.

Teaching teenagers recently has been somewhat of a balancing act. At the moment I have a very high-level class who are essentially studying at a university level and while they get on with it for the most part it can be struggling to motivate them. I have resorted to giving them extended breaks and time to listen to music on youtube to breakup the monotony of learning academic English for them. It's pretty cool sometimes and I have seen plenty of clips on youtube of random Indonesians lipsynching to terrible pop songs... the only real bonus is that I'm being paid for it! While my high-level students appreciate the downtime my lower-level teenagers need pushing and encouragement.

I have two students that are above the level of the rest of the class in my lower ability group. They are cool and ultimately catch a lot of flak in the way of banter from me. One girl is incredibly sarcastic and actually pretty good in English but needs to constantly be reminded that she is not as clever as she thinks she is. Without being nasty - I could be incredibly personal - I can imagine that she is defensive because of her body shape. I guess the best way to describer her physical appearance would be somewhere along the lines of an Indonesian Swamp Thing. Although she kind of reminds me of the Incredible Hulk too! I sometimes find myself whispering "Hulk smash!" when she rolls dice in board games... Besides that I do actually encourage them to learn and have seen progress in some of the students. That being said however I can't help but make jokes about one of the boy's names. Who calls their 16 year old son Wendy?! One of my favourite quotes from my classroom in the last month or so is: "Wendy is a unisex name!". I'm only playing but I guess sometimes it's in the best interests of the teacher to avoid humiliating students, so I'm trying to reduce my mocking...

Speaking of humiliation I've kind of started resorting to that as a means of teaching my very young learners. But humiliating myself instead! I'm the first to admit that I'm not particularly great at teaching young kids but I have started enjoying it. I tend to blow a lot of raspberries and feign high-fives to wind the children up. I've also taught a few of them to blow raspberries themselves and then point at each other. I'm sure that goes down brilliantly with their strict Chinese-Indonesian parents! I've earned a moniker from two classes now. They call me "Badut Gendut"... loosely translated into English as Fat Clown! Nevermind as long as the kids are learning their basic vocab and structures and having fun the school seem to be happy about it.

The end of this week was marked with a meeting known as the seven month review. Nothing productive came of it as the school hasn't really changed I've just become tired of complaining about things the school has no interest in changing. I've been asked about my feelings towards the management and the response I gave was kind of empty... I don't really have any. I am just content now to do the best I can given the circumstances on a class by class basis.

On a final note this is my last post before I leave for Ujung Kulon on Wednesday! I'm going trekking, canoeing and snorkling in coastal rainforest on the far western tip of Java and then hopefully visiting a traditional tribe called the Badui! If I have time I want to climb a small mountain called Gunung Honje to try and get a closer look at the Javan Gibbon. I've seen it in the wild twice now in Gunung Halimun and Carita but they were always to high in the trees to get a close look or a decent photo :(

Peace x