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