Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Weekend in Singapore

Since my Indonesian work visa was about to expire, I headed over to Singapore for a weekend to see the sights and catch up with my friend Louvelle, who teaches at an international school there. Singapore is known for being clean, modern and efficient and this was evident as soon as I stepped off the plane. Disembarking passengers were ushered in a straight line to an x-ray machine, where our carryon bags were x-rayed again. After my backpack containing chewing gum and pirated DVDs successfully cleared the x-ray machine, I breathed a sigh of relief and ducked into the bathroom where I used my first ever squat toilet that flushed automatically! I stared at the retreating water in amazement. What a country! Like my trip to Australia over Christmas, my weekend in Singapore was a breath of fresh air - a short respite in a world where everything works, the water is hot, and the food is delicious.

Scenes of Singapore

Louvelle was changing apartments that weekend so we stayed at a hotel – the Ibis on Bencoolen, which I would highly recommend for its central location, great restaurant, and super fast internet connection. In fact, I was so taken with the fastest internet connection I’ve had in 10 months that I spent many, many hours sitting in front of my laptop uploading photos and videos and chatting with friends. Admittedly, I did feel kinda lame about this. Here I was in a new city and a new country just goofing around in my hotel room on Facebook. But it paid off in an unexpected way. My status said I was in Singapore and a friend from grad school commented on it – “You’re in Singapore?! Me too!!” And so we met up and had a drink at the hotel and talked about life since grad school. It pays to update your status!

I also spent a lot of time eating. From my first taste of chicken rice at the Ibis restaurant to the exotic offerings of hawker food at the Makansutra hawker center, Singapore delighted me. I had wondered what the big deal about chicken rice was. Wasn’t it just rice and chicken? But then I learned that its delicious flavor comes from the fact that the rice is cooked in chicken soup. YUM! What’s more, the plate of bee hoon noodles I had at the hawker center was far better than any Italian pasta dish I’ve ever had. And that’s saying quite a bit. The satay was amazing as well and I even ventured a bite of barbequed stingray (too spicy!).

I had my fair share of western food too. One night we went out to dinner for Louvelle’s assistant’s birthday and her husband treated us all to a hedonistic feast of Mediterranean appetizers with garlic bread followed by kebabs of grilled swordfish, steak, prawns, and veggies. As side dishes we had paella and baked potatoes with sour cream. All this was washed down with a bottle of white wine from Australia and rounded off with the most divine tiramisu I have had since, well, the last time I was in Sydney. The very next morning we headed off to a fair trade café called Food for Thought where I ordered banana walnut pancakes with whipped cream, scrambled eggs with cream and cappuccino. I was in heaven.

No first trip to Singapore would be complete without a visit to the famous Raffles Hotel, which dates back to the colonial era and oozes old world charm and luxury. Louvelle took the requisite picture of me standing next to the Sheik doorman and then we roamed around inside visiting the museum, and peeking inside the Long Bar, the Bar & Billiard room and finally settling down at the Martini Bar to enjoy a couple of Singapore Slings at the establishment where it all began. The drinks are ridiculously overpriced and, according to Louvelle, made from a mix, but it’s something everyone has to do at least once when in Singapore.

Posing in front of the Raffles Hotel

With the Sheik doorman

Drinking Singapore Slings with Louvelle

After leaving Raffles, we hopped in a cab over to Riverside Point where we got on a river taxi that floated us up the river to the Merlion, the symbolic statue of Singapore. The river trip was highly entertaining. All the buildings were beautifully illuminated and we floated by the popular night life scene of Clarke Quay, the Extreme Swing, the fancy Fullerton Hotel, the Singapore Flyer, and the Esplanade Theater. The bumboat also featured a running commentary but we didn’t hear it as we were sitting outside in the back. The spectacular views more than made up for that however.

Two full days is really not enough time to explore all that Singapore as to offer. I would especially love to go back to linger in the cafés and restaurants of the Arab quarter and feast in Little India. Thankfully, Louvelle will be in Singapore for at least one more year and there are direct flights to Singapore from Yogya!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Until we meet again…

For nearly ten months I kept to myself at UNG, sequestering myself in my little office with the AC where I tried to keep up with the rest of the world with my slow internet connection. I showed up for my classes on time, taught in the sweltering hot classrooms, then went home to shower off the dirt and grime from the day and, if I had any energy left, treated myself to a DVD. On weekends I met my American friends to go diving or travel around Indonesia. Occasionally, I would have dinner with one of the other lecturers. Never once in all that time did I consider my students to be potential friends. Although this outlook started to change with our class trip to Saronde Island, I was still caught off guard by the outpouring of emotion and heartfelt goodbyes from my students at my UNG farewell party and in the days that followed.

The fact that the English department even threw me a party at all was touching. I don’t think anyone has thrown a party for me since I was kid and my mom planned birthday parties for me at roller skating rinks, Burger King, and Gymnastics World. Even when I left my job in Switzerland after five years, I had to throw myself a party and buy all the food for my colleagues. This event was in a league of its own. I walked into the multi-purpose room to find a HUGE sign that said “Farewell Party Julianne Reynolds, M.A.” The head of the department, the dean of the faculty of letters and culture, and even the rector of the university himself gave speeches – and surprisingly personal ones at that. Then two of my students, Amad and Ucha, got up on stage to say a few words. I could feel the tears forming as they spoke and a slide show of pictures of me with the students from throughout the year played in the background. Somehow, through all the barriers I created around myself this past year, I had made a difference to my students and they were genuinely sad to see me leave Gorontalo.

As I sat there feeling all emotional, I was summoned to the stage to say a few words. It was horribly embarrassing because I was crying in front of a room full of colleagues and former students, but I managed to say a few words to thank everyone for the kindness they have shown me this year. Then it was time for the souvenirs. I stood in the front of the room as gift-wrapped presents from the department, the staff, the students and individual lecturers were ceremoniously given to me. I accepted each gift, kissed the giver on the checks or shook hands, and then placed the still wrapped gift on a silver tray so it could then be whisked off to a parked car outside.

Then it was time for songs and dances. Several students and lecturers sang to me, six of my guys performed a choreographed dance routine and then Class B came up to the stage and started singing ‘Assalamualaikum’ – the song we sang together on our trip to Saronde. Not only did they sing it, but they also beckoned for me to come up to the stage and sing it with them. Vana had even printed out the lyrics for me! So up to the stage I went and we all swayed and sang together, with me stumbling over the lyrics into the mic. But it was all good fun and I loved it.

Goodbye Class B! I will really miss you.

After a lovely lunch, I went back home to start packing up my house. But I wasn’t alone. A couple members of Class A came over to give me a beautiful photo album of us throughout the year that hilariously also included several ‘hidden camera’ shots that one of the students had taken of me during class! The students had also filled the album with personal messages. Near the end there is even one page called ‘Attendance List’ where they all signed their names in fancy ink – a stylized version of what I ask them to do every day in class! As the delegates of Class A were on their way out the door, delegates of Class B arrived and presented me with ANOTHER beautiful, thoughtful album of photos and memories. Then they stayed to help me open the rest of the gifts that I had received earlier – beautiful kerawang fabric of Gorontalo, traditional fans, and keychains made from recycled newspaper, among other things. Then Ibu Elsje came to pick up my furniture. When I sold her my sofa set and mattress, I had asked her to arrange for someone to pick them up. I was expecting her to show up with a van or a truck but instead she came with a roda – a traditional horse-drawn cart! My students helped the driver load the furniture and waited with me while the driver made a couple trips between my house and Ibu Elsje’s.

So many presents to unwrap!

The goodbye sendoff continued into that evening and the next couple of days. After we loaded up the furniture, we went back to campus where other members of Class B had been preparing a bbq for me! My students grilled up fresh corn and fish outside the language lab and we sat around talking and joking for a few more hours. But the day had been a long one, so I eventually bid them goodnight and went home. The next day I arrived at work bright and early to finish calculating my final grades and pack up my office. While I was scrambling to get all my work done, members of Class C appeared to invite me to dinner at one of the girls’ houses. Very reluctantly I told them that I couldn’t go because I HAD TO finish up my grades and, besides, my neighbors were already planning on taking me out for a farewell dinner. Time was short and there was still so much to do. Unfazed, Class C showed up at my house the next morning to accompany me to the airport. They had rented a car to follow me!

At the airport with Class C

All along I have been saying that I will definitely come back to Gorontalo to dive. But now I feel have another reason, too. I will really and truly miss these students of mine - these students who have now added me on Facebook and tell me how much they love and miss me. Instead of feeling like this is the end of an era, I feel like this is just the beginning of some new lifelong friendships. I will be back.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

To market, to market to buy a fresh fish

After our trip to Saronde Island last week, Amad, Vana and Vany asked me if there was anything else in Gorontalo that I wanted to do before I left. And actually there was. I wanted to go to the fish market. And not only that, I wanted to go there by bendi, a type of horse-drawn carriage that was the traditional means of transportation around town until bentors arrived on the scene about ten years ago. And so, at 6 am on a Wednesday morning, I met my students at the language lab on campus and we headed off to the morning fish market by bendi.

Off to the market by bendi

With Vany and Vana on the bendi

The fish market is held at a place called Tangga Dua Ribu or Two Thousand Steps that’s right at the mouth of the Bone river. We would pass it every morning on the dive boat as we headed off to our dive sites and it always intrigued me because it seemed to be a bustling, happening place. The fishing boats pull right up to the shore and hordes of people are always swarming about, buying their daily fish. Miguel’s Diving also happens to be located on the same street that leads to the fish market, so every day when we drove up to the dock to get on the boat, we would see fish sellers whizz by on their bikes, fish tails sticking out of the baskets besides them, as they hurried off to sell their fish in town. I was also particularly pleased whenever I saw bentors laden with large yellowfin tuna. I became convinced that seeing one was a good omen that a great day of diving was in store.

Clickety-clack, clickety-clack - we trotted along the early morning streets of Gorontalo in our horse-drawn carriage at a surprisingly brisk pace, passing the morning street cleaners busily sweeping the streets. In a country known for its littering problem, Gorontalo is unique in that its streets are swept clean every morning. We also passed fruits sellers and a shoe repairman who seemed to have taken up shop in the middle of the main street. Then we went by the Governor’s mansion and a string of colonial era houses. Along the way, Vana taught me an Indonesian children’s song about a young child going to the Sunday market with his father by bendi and sitting up front next to the kusir or driver. Children’s songs about going to market in a horse drawn carriage seem to belong to an earlier, simpler time, yet, in Gorontalo, this time still exists.

As could be expected, my arrival at the Gorontalo fish market did not go unnoticed. Shouts of “bule, bule!” filled the air as men dangled their fish in front of me and barked out the prices. “Mrs.! Di sini!” Come over here, Mrs.! The fish sellers beckoned and called to me while I manovered my way around the tables of shipjack tuna, tarps of trevally and buckets of small silvery fish. I did not find their shouts obnoxious at all. Instead, I reveled in the moment and enjoyed being the center of attention. I enjoyed exchanging a few words with the men in Indonesian, taking pictures and just generally soaking up the atmosphere of the early morning market. Vana bought some fish to take home to her aunt and I treated my students to a delicious pastry from Bandung called buroncong that we ate on the steps overlooking the ocean after our market visit.

Fish for sale!

I got to take the wheel of this bentor full of yellowfin tuna!

Once again I felt a pang of sadness that I’m leaving Gorontalo just when I’m finally starting to figure it out and really appreciate it. Thank you Vana, Vany and Amad for showing me another one of Gorontalo’s hidden treasures.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Saronde Dance Videos!

Here are the videos of my students and me with our 'Canyuhswim?' dance on Saronde Island. Actually, the word 'Saronde' refers to a type of traditional Gorontalo dance. Our dance is hardly traditional, but it was a lot of fun!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Saronde Island

I had heard tales about Saronde Island since I first moved to Gorontalo. Many of my writing students last semester wrote about it when I asked them to tell me about interesting places to visit in Gorontalo. This past Sunday, with less than two weeks of my fellowship left to go, I finally went to Saronde with about a dozen students from one of my speaking classes. It was one of the best days I’ve had in Gorontalo and now I kinda wish I didn’t have to leave.

We met on campus early Sunday morning and squeezed ourselves into an angkot or minibus for the hour long ride to Kwandang, a village on the north coast of Gorontalo province. We stopped at Vana’s house, where, much to my surprise, her family had prepared some food for us to take to the island including palm sugar cakes, a huge tub of delicious melon juice, and dabu dabu iris! I had made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich because I thought the plan was for everyone to bring their own lunch, but apparently, the new plan was to grill fish on the beach! YES!

Squeezed into the angkot

Stocked up with provisions, we drove a few more minutes to the harbor. Here, a quaint little boat called ‘Taxi Saronde’ was waiting to shuttle us across to the island, about half an hour away. En route we stopped at another island to buy some fresh fish at what turned out to be Vana’s boyfriend’s home village. While the boys went ashore to buy the fish, Ucha asked me what Indonesian songs I liked. I told them I liked ‘Assalamualaikum’ and started singing a few bars of the refrain. They squealed in delight and soon we were all singing it together. I also told them I liked ‘Jika Cinta Dia’ and we sang along to that one too. It was great fun.

Heading to our destination in the 'Taxi Saronde'

Soon we pulled ashore at Saronde Island. Without a doubt, it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. The entire island is ringed with about1 km of beautiful white sand beach. The water was every possible shade of blue imaginable and the beach was strewn with shells and coconut husks. In the middle there was small collection of huts and two cottages. I walked around in a daze and kept repeating how beautiful it was. Finally, Novah had to beg me to stop staying ‘beautiful’ so much. So then I rattled off a list of other adjectives: stunning, gorgeous, breathtaking, sublime, heavenly, magnificent and on and on. This is no exaggeration.

I love Saronde Island!

We all love Saronde Island!

Look at this white sand beach!!

We set ourselves up at one of the little huts near the water. It was midday so several students disappeared to go grill the fish over the coconut husks they brought with them and I stayed behind to play cards with Ucha, Novah, and Deysi, while several others looked on. We were in the middle of Rummy 500 when the others came back with the freshly grilled fish, elaborately served up on a palm leaf! We put the cards away and dug into the dabu dabu and packets of rice that someone had brought along. The dabu dabu was particularly spicy and my hiccups came out in full force, much to the amusement of some of the students!

My students posing with fresh grilled fish and dabu dabu salsa!

After lunch, Amad and I went for a walk around the entire island. Since it was so small this only took about 20 minutes, including the time we stopped to take pictures. Have I mentioned how beautiful this island is? As we finished our walk, we noticed that many of the others were already playing on the beach and in the water. So we joined them and thus began several hours of hilarity. One thing I love about Indonesians is that they can be very lebay. This is a slang word that means doing things in an overexaggerated fashion, especially posing for pictures. Since Amad is a pretty decent photographer, I gave him my cameras for the day and he took most of the pictures. Here are some of my favorite photos of the day:

These are our swimming clothes!

Indonesians are experts at instantly posing for group photos

Vany looked very photogenic in her pink jilbab!

There was an afternoon shower but then there was also this beautiful rainbow!

Amad's underwater self-portrait. Love the reflection in the goggles!

Probably the most lebay moment of all came when we decide to make a video of ourselves dancing to a song we made up that consists of three words, “Can you swim?” On the boat ride over to the island, I had asked Vany, who was sitting next to me, if she could swim. However, in my American accent, this question came out as one word - “Canyuhswim?” and Vany did not understand me at all. Once I explained that I was asking “Can you swim?” everyone thought this was hysterical and we took turns asking each other, “Canyuhswim?”. If you say it kind of fast and repetitively it turns into a sorta catchy tune. And thus our dance was born. I'll try to upload the video when I have a faster internet connection.

Surprisingly, many Indonesians cannot swim. There’s no such thing as swimming lessons as part of gym class here, so only people who grow up near the water ever learn. I would have thought that in a beach town such as Gorontalo, many people would know how to swim. What I learned this year is that people only learn if they’re literally within walking distance to a swimmable body of water (like the people of Torosiaje who live right on top of the ocean). So, even Vana, who grew up in the village of Kwandang, can’t really swim. I gave her a lesson though – we practiced blowing bubbles, breathing to the side and kicking. I also lent her my goggles for most of the afternoon. She had never seen underwater before and was transfixed. She’s really good at holding her breath and she would go under and report back all of the cool things she saw – blue starfish and ‘Nemo’ being at the top of her list! The next day I got a text from her, “By ur goggles I aware seaworld is beautiful… I see thng tht never I see b4. Thanks a lot.” While my English lessons may or may not stay with her once this year is over, I think I have left her with something else that will last forever – an appreciation of the underwater world! I’m so proud.

We stayed on the island until sunset and then reluctantly got back on the boat to head back to Kwandang and our waiting angkot. I could barely keep my eyes open for the ride back to town though. After a day spent swimming, running around the beach, turning cartwheels, giving swimming lessons, singing loudly and talking non-stop, I was utterly exhausted. But I loved it. My students are really a lot of fun to be with. It’s sort of ironic. All year long I have been keeping them at a distance – refusing to add them on Facebook, telling them it’s not appropriate to turn up unannounced at my door in the evening, and explicitly stating second semester in my syllabi that they are not to text me randomly at 10 pm to say ‘Miss what r u doing now?’ I kept them at bay because I thought, as their teacher, I was supposed to keep a professional distance. The thing is, my concept of ‘professional distance’ seems to be an American one. My fellow lecturers at UNG are friends with their students on FB, they encourage students to drop by their homes to ask questions and talk freely in what they see as a more comfortable environment and they text each other day and night. I’m afraid the only effect my ‘professional distance’ attitude served this year was to isolate me from a community of fun-loving, curious and friendly people. But I hope it’s not too late. I hope my students will add me as their friend on FB now and I hope we can stay in touch.

With Vana on the 'Taxi Saronde' at sunset