Thursday, January 28, 2010

Terong Belanda

I know I’ve written about how horrible my week in Makassar was, especially as far as the food goes, but I would like to say that there was one saving grace – terong belanda! This is my new favorite juice! The name literally means “Dutch eggplant” but it’s also known as a tamarillo or a tree tomato in other parts of the world.

Here’s a picture of me enjoying a terong belanda after a presentation at a public high school in Makassar:

New Year, New Attitude

After five weeks of traveling, it felt really good to get back to Gorontalo and finally unpack my suitcase. Now I’m gearing up for part two of this crazy, adventurous year. And what’s more – I’ve officially decided to stay for a second tour of duty. Indonesia is growing on me, particularly my little town of Gorontalo. Much to my surprise, I found myself missing Gorontalo while I was away. I missed its natural beauty and simplicity. I missed my daily bentor commute through the rice paddies. I missed the mountains. I missed the ocean.

I feel that somehow over the past few weeks some sort of change has overcome me. I think in Makassar I was going through a transition phase where I was fully allowing myself to acknowledge all the unpleasantness that I encounter every day. And the end result is that I know I can deal with it. I haven’t been dealt any cards yet that I haven’t been able to handle. I think the first few months here were rougher than I expected partly because I really had no idea what to expect. Southeast Asia is different from any other place on earth that I’ve spent time in. I read the travel guides and I emailed with Jonna, but I was still unprepared for what it would be like to live here.

As the initial strangeness of this new land slowly starts to wear off, I can see myself growing more comfortable here. I have my house (with new living room furniture and finally, finally an outside gate), I have found some truly great friends – my ETAs Sarah and Alexa who just live a bentor ride away, and all my other ELF friends who are only a text or phone call away - I have my diving, and I have a job that I actually enjoy (if I could just find a way to get papers graded faster it would be perfect).

I’ve also noticed my attitude towards the Indonesian language is starting to change. I actually want to learn it now and I have Amber to thank for that. She has been a big inspiration to me. Before our half week together in Yogya, I had no idea how much Bahasa Indonesia she actually knew. She jokes that what she speaks is Bahasa Taxi because she feels she doesn’t really know that much but she knows enough to have the same standard conversations over and over again with taxi drivers. But I was impressed. And what’s more – I felt like I was learning so much just from listening to her talk to the drivers. We decided that listening to someone speak who is just slightly more advanced is more helpful and inspirational than listening to someone who is fluent. I learn by listening to Amber, Amber learns by listening to Stephanie and Stephanie (probably) learns by listening to Adam.

I don’t imagine that the rest of my time here will be smooth sailing because I know it won’t. It seems that practically every positive moment is counterbalanced by a negative one. For instance, during my first two days back at work I was thrilled to see my former students greet me so enthusiastically: “Miss Julianne! Ma’am! You came back! How are you? I like your skirt. You are so beautiful!” and on and on. But then there was also this: one of the lecturers who I don’t know very well at all came up to me, poked at my upper arm for several moments then announced, “You are fat!” I shot her a bemused look. Then she clarified, “In Gorontalo, you are heavy!” Nothing like Indonesian brutal honesty!

Asian Diver Features Gorontalo

In the Jakarta airport on the way back to Gorontalo, I happened to pick up the current issue of Asian Diver magazine and was extremely pleased and proud to see that there was a feature article on the diving in Gorontalo! For a limited time, you can see a shortened online version of this article by clicking here. As an added bonus, you can see a picture of one of Gorontalo's famous Salvador Dali sponges! After this link expires, check the back issues for issue # 106.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

On Workshops, Presentations and Conferences

Somehow I managed to survive the past two weeks of non-stop presentations. After my five presentations in Makassar, I flew directly to Java for five presentations in Yogyakarta and five more in Solo – which amounts to 2 weeks, 3 cities and 15 presentations. It was exhausting, but also surprisingly rewarding and entertaining.

One thing I like about presenting in Indonesia is that my audiences seem to genuinely appreciate what I’m sharing with them. Participants thanked me profusely for workshops I gave on Communication Repair Strategies, Learning Styles and Learning Strategies, Using Peer Reviews, and Developing Vocabulary Through Reading. In my mind, this is all very basic stuff, but to many of the participants this was cutting edge material. As an added ego-booster, many participants expressed an interest in having me come present at their own schools or universities or in contacting the RELO office so they can get an ELF of their own in the future.

I’ll also admit that I kind of like being treated as a celebrity guest speaker. I get chauffeured from venue to venue in a university sponsored car, I get taken out to dinner and shows and get put up in hotels, I pose for hundreds of photos with seminar participants, and I’m lavished with tokens of appreciation at closing ceremonies. I’m much more comfortable with this kind of celebrity than with, say, posing for photos with random strangers just because I’m a bule. At least at these seminars the people I’m posing with know who I am - even those who didn’t understand a single word of my presentation. And the gifts of appreciation are always interesting - in Yogya I received a beautiful handmade batik scarf while in Solo I received a giant framed painting of Krishna on a piece of furry goat skin!

When presenting in Indonesia there is always a high risk of cultural or organizational misunderstanding. In fact, this is pretty much guaranteed to happen so you might as well just go with the flow and try to see the humor in all of it. For instance, when I unpacked my photocopied handouts for my first set of workshops at a university in Yogya, I discovered that my handouts for two entirely different workshops had been stapled together. An assembly line team was then promptly formed to take the handouts apart and re-staple them in the right groupings. As another example, when Sarah and I showed up at a vocational high school in Solo prepared to present on Managing Large Classes and Using Peer Reviews, we were greeted with a huge banner that announced we were presenting on Developing Vocabulary Through Reading and Reading and Critical Thinking, topics that we had presented on the day before at Sarah’s university. We apologized to the audience and proceeded with our planned presentations. I also had to deal with brief power outages, impromptu opening and closing speeches, and having to cut a presentation short.

None of that, however, compares to the shocks I experienced at my first Indonesian conference last month when I attended the TEFLIN (Teachers of English as a Foreign Language in Indonesia) Conference in Malang. When Indonesian moderators take questions from the audience, they are oddly methodical about it. They will ask for 5 questions total or a question from the left, the right and the middle of the room or a question from one man and one woman. The people asking the questions then ramble on with ridiculously long questions while the moderators write everything down. The answering of these questions doesn’t begin until all the questions have been collected by the moderator. This question and answer time is so important that once when Bill Grabe, the reading guru, was presenting and the program was running late, the moderators cut off his hour-long plenary talk after about 15 minutes to make sure that the participants had plenty of time to ask questions. And you know what they asked questions about? About the material on the slides he didn’t have time to present because he got cut off! He was none too pleased.

But my personal favorite amusing story comes from my own presentation at TEFLIN. It was my first conference presentation ever and the other four lectures from UNG who also traveled to Malang for the conference had promised to attend. My workshop went well, but I was slightly baffled and hurt that none of the other UNG lecturers actually showed up - until I got this text message from one of them: “I set my reminder, I set my alarm clock in my mobile phone, I have a promise with you, I do want to go to your presentation, and the reality is I couldn’t. It was raining just now. Please forgive me Julianne…” And that’s when I learned that some Indonesians really do stop everything when the rains come.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Club Sandwich That Broke the Camel’s Back

Makassar is a rough town. In 2003 some students at Universitas Negeri Makassar burned down the university library in protest of a variety of things. Even today, my friend Mark reports that the students still riot and throw rocks at each other. It is a city where the rainy seasons bring such intense rains that the streets are permanently flooded with pools of garbage and oil. It is a city where the revolting corpse of a dead cat with bulging eyeballs was left for God knows how long to decompose by the main entrance of the building that houses The American Corner. It is also the city where I ate the club sandwich that broke the camel’s back.

I arrived in Makassar for the ELF/ETA Mid-Year Conference on a cold, wet, rainy Sunday afternoon after having just spent the last 4 days of my vacation in paradise on Bunaken Island. I crash landed back into the world of work, presentations and meetings with a suitcase full of dirty, smelly, wet clothes and the panicked realization that I had not planned a single bit of the three workshops I was scheduled to present at a tourism school and a local high school. Pushing those thoughts aside, I joined a small group of ELFs at a restaurant around the corner from the hotel for a quick bit to eat.

And this is where it happened. Still hungry after a round of fried tofu, I ordered a club sandwich because it was the most appealing item on the menu. When the waiter placed the sandwich of untoasted white bread (sans frilly toothpick) and wilted lettuce in front of me, I looked at it dubiously. When I picked it up and noticed the unidentifiable piece of luncheon meat dangling off the side, all the accumulated stress that had been building inside me reached a breaking point and I burst into tears. I ranted to my somewhat astonished friends that eating food should be a pleasurable, sensual experience and this sandwich was anything but. In fact, all Indonesian food is completely horrible. In a true act of solidarity, Courtney reached over to try a piece of the sandwich and instantly declared it disgusting. Then she buried it under a pile of tissues and garbage, which made me laugh. And then Mark, with a typical male how-bad-can-it-be attitude, proceeded to devour the rest of the sandwich. Go figure.

After this incident, I was reassured to learn that I wasn’t the only one who was tired, headachy and not at all in the mood for a jam-packed week of workshops and random meetings with the teachers, rectors, and Vice Presidents of the schools that we were supposed to visit. None of us, in fact, have been in top form this week as we battle jet-lag, sore-throats, colds, diarrhea, hangovers, exhaustion, holiday flirtations that amounted to nothing, family problems back home and other assorted woes. But we all rallied and managed to pull off our workshops.

However, it is against this backdrop of stress, fatigue, and general unpleasantness of my surroundings that I need to make my final decision about renewing my contract in Indonesia for a second year. I had been leaning towards staying on but to be honest, Indonesia, especially the cities, is not a place I can say I really enjoy living in. For instance, on our way to dinner tonight, we walked by a garbage truck full of such foul smelling garbage that Sarah almost gagged. Then we passed some more burning garbage, begging children and cat-calling men. On the way back to our hotel, I had to roll up my jeans to prevent them from being dragged through filthy garbage and I also coughed up some sort of bug that flew into my mouth. Unpleasantness abounds here. And the food is really and truly awful.

Should I stay or should I go?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Night Diving

Depending on where I’m living, I’ve been known to flirt with the associated “extreme” sports. This is somewhat odd, considering that I don’t really think of myself as a particularly athletic or sporty person. Nevertheless, there was that semester in college when I took up whitewater kayaking and mountain biking in Maine. Then I moved to Switzerland where I spent many years trying to learn how to ski. Now I’m in Indonesia and not only have I taken up diving, but I also find that I particularly like diving at night.

I just finished my PADI Advanced Open Water Diver course in Bunaken and elected to do a night dive as one of my five “adventure dives”, as they call them. I was more apprehensive about this one than I was before the other four dives – peak performance buoyancy, navigation, deep water, and underwater photography. Night diving would be challenging because I didn’t know how I’d feel underwater at night. Would I feel claustrophobic? Disoriented? Scared? What if I lost sight of the others in the group? How much does one really see underwater in the dark anyway? These fears disappeared as I held on to the reference line and descended about 12 meters along a coral wall.

My eyes quickly adjusted to the light of my flashlight and what I saw amazed and delighted me. During the day, the reef looks very blue and all the colors sort of get washed out the deeper you go. At night though, with a flashlight, the colors suddenly come alive and are made even more vibrant against the blackness of the water. And the creatures are different too. Most of the colorful little reef fish go to sleep in the crevices of the wall while other more mysterious creatures come out to play. The ones that fascinated me the most were the painted spiny lobsters. Large, colorful, and somewhat resembling space aliens, they were mesmerizing. At one point I saw some long white feelers poking up out of a crevice. I ascended a meter or so to get a better look and as I rose up, the rest of the enormous lobster came into view and my flashlight revealed two big glowing eyes staring right at me. I felt like I was in a science fiction movie.

I loved shining my flashlight into all the nooks and crannies to see what creatures might be lurking about. There were lots of big crabs, coral banded cleaner shrimp, beautiful lionfish and even a scorpionfish. A highlight included seeing a sleeping green turtle. Our lights must have woken him up because after a couple of moments, he swam away. I felt slightly bad about disturbing his slumber but it was also an incredible sight to see him so close up and then to see him swim off into black oblivion, gently flapping his flippers.

One of the most magical parts about night diving is seeing the phosphorescent plankton. If you turn your flashlight towards your body to mask the light and then wave your other hand back and forth in front of you, you will see a sparkling shower of small glowing balls that seemingly fly out from your finger tips. It is probably the closest I will ever come to feeling like a sorceress casting a magic spell.