Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Blogger Romance

It's interesting the things that happen once you start writing a blog. Over the past year I've had a fellow teacher use one of my blog posts in her English class, I've been invited to write a magazine article, and I've even been contacted by strangers in Italy looking for advice on moving to Gorontalo. But probably one of the best things to come out of writing this blog was reconnecting with a certain 6'4, blond, blue-eyed guy I knew from college.

Once upon a time I had made a list of qualities I was looking for in a guy. Ok, so it was last summer. After a frustrating summer escapade, I had had enough and decided that the next guy I was going to get serious about needed to meet my 'minimum requirements'. With rather astonishing speed, I quickly composed my list in my journal. Looking over my list a few minutes later, I realized with alarm that I should be dating myself. Slightly depressed, I stashed my journal away and shipped out to Indonesia.

One year later, I agreed to meet my friend Henry from college for dinner while I happened to be in Washington, DC. Although I hadn't seen him in 10 years, the conversation flowed freely over delicious Indian food and continued over drinks by the rooftop pool of his condo. The guy I had remembered from college as tall and slightly goofy was still tall and slightly goofy but in a way I was totally drawn to. The more we talked, the more I realized that I was sitting with my ideal guy, my perfect guy that I had envisioned for myself last summer. What's more, he seemed to have been waiting for me too. He told me the charming story of how he and a friend stumbled across my blog while Googling recipes for eggplant juice and he admitted to having a crush on me in college. What followed was a whirlwind three days of dinners, a baseball game and drinks with friends. At the end of the three days, he left DC to head up to Maine where he spends a week of vacation every year volunteering at a summer camp for the children and families of 9/11 victims.

With Henry at a Nationals game in Washington, DC

What do you do when you think you might have met 'the one' but are leaving the country for 10 or 11 months? I've never had much luck with long distance relationships and so when Henry asked me if this was just a fling or something more, I hesitated. We had three absolutely fantastic days together and I can't remember ever feeling so happy, safe, understood and adored in a relationship. But still, it was only three days. Can either of us really commit to a relationship after such a short time? It seems like a crazy thing, but I think we both recognize what we've found in each other. I'm still hesitant to label this, but we talk on Skype and Gmail a lot and he even sent me a big bouquet of flowers with an adorable note on my first day at my new office. I have a good feeling about this.

Flowers from Henry

Seafood Feast at Depok

After touring the Sultan's Water Palace, we were all in a water sort of mood and spontaneously decided to head to the ocean for a seafood dinner. We settled into the van for a one hour ride that turned out to be only 40 minutes since our driver drove like a maniac dodging motorbikes right and left. Thankfully, we survived that ride and found ourselves on a relatively uncrowded black sand beach just in time for sunset. We had arrived at the INDIAN OCEAN!

With Anya and Anastasia

Zipping around on an ATV seemed to be the thing to do


I had heard that the seas south of Yogya were rough and they certainly looked it. Thunderous waves crashed in every direction and no one was swimming although there were a few Indonesian guys splashing around, tempting the Queen of the South Seas. I was content to stand at the water's edge and let the warm water and black sand cover my feet as I watched the waves crash and roll. I'm glad Yogya isn't far from the ocean. Depok is one of the closest beaches to the city and Ingrid and Anastasia raved about the fresh seafood market here.

Ingrid selected a tasty sampling of seafood at the market for us to try. We carried our bags of seafood to a little warung on the beach where it was cooked up for us as we walked along the water. We feasted on grilled tuna, fried shrimp, squid, clams, grilled snapper, and crabs. The grilled tuna and the fried shrimp were particularly delicious.

The only dent in my enjoyment of the evening was seeing that there were baby sharks for sale at the seafood market. I was particularly affected by the sight of a baby hammerhead shark. When I was on Bunaken for my rescue diver course, my instructor was a major shark guy who showed all of us a presentation that he does on shark awareness. His gist is that sharks are amazing creatures, not man-eaters, and most importantly, they are the alpha predators of the ocean and without them the oceans will collapse. He detailed the problematic indiscriminate fishing of sharks, particularly in Asia, in a very thoughtful talk. He has reached many people in South East Asia with his presentation but clearly there is a long way to go with environmental education in Indonesia. Seeing a local woman proudly holding up a dead baby hammerhead shark is, sadly, not at all unusual in this part of the world.

Poor baby hammerhead

The Sultan's Water Palace

At ICRS, Ingrid, Amber's AWESOME counterpart from last year, is in charge of organizing cultural activities for Luce Fellows and anyone else who happens to be staying at the ICRS guest house, including me, Anastasia and Anya. These excursions happen, from what I gather, almost every weekend. Yesterday we were going to go to the Sultan's Palace but when we arrived we found out that it had closed early that day because of Ramadan. So, we modified the plan and went instead to visit the ruins of the Sultan's Water Palace, also known as Taman Sari. This was a place I had been really intrigued by, so I'm glad it turned out to be our first outing.

Completed in 1765, the Taman Sari complex is a huge area adjacent to the regular palace that the royal family used for relaxation, entertainment and even education in the form of lessons for the royal children. The main palace was destroyed in an earthquake in 1865 but the Sultan's private bathing area has been restored. The whole area is pretty much devoted to sensual pleasures. The very first courtyard we entered contained 4 pavilions for gamelan orchestras. Our guide joked that having not one but four orchestras was the original definition of surround sound. Growing in this courtyard were also trees with sawo and kepel fruit. Sawo fruit is eaten by men and is supposed to give them superhero powers at night. Everyone chuckled at this, but our guide was quick to point out that the superhero powers were not confined to the bedroom but to any physical task a man might have to do in the evening. Kepel fruit is eaten by women to help them produce sweet smelling sweat AND it's believed to have anti-conception powers. I suppose this was very useful considering the Sultans had many wives. 

Going down the stairs from the gamelan/fruit courtyard, we entered the bathing area. There were two large pools here- one for the children and one for the Sultan's wives. As the wives bathed below, the Sultan would watch them from his tower and then select the one he fancied sleeping with by throwing down a flower into the pool next to the chosen woman. Then, the wife would join the Sultan for a swim together in the Sultan's private pool behind the tower. We also peeked into the Sultan's bedroom in the tower. Interestingly, sandalwood was burned under the bed to help ward off mosquitoes and keep the Sultan smelling good. 

View of the wives' pool and the tower.

Ingrid and Anya at the Sultan's private pool

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Real World Academia Begins!

I arrived in Yoga late Wednesday evening in a mini-van sized taxi with my NINE pieces of luggage. I had two giant suitcases, a small suitcase, a duffel bag full of diving and swimming stuff, a small wheeled carry-on bag, my laptop bag, a bag with my mattress pad from Gorontalo, the large framed Wayang Kulit shadow puppet figure on goat skin and, finally, my purse. My counterpart, Ipung, and Mas Marwan, who works at the guest house, miraculously whisked all of this up a narrow spiral staircase to my new bedroom. I cringed as I watched them carry the enormous suitcases up the stairs. Then I met John, a Luce Fellow from California studying religion and Arabic, who is also living in the house for the semester and had just arrived the day before. He told me he had packed everything he needed for the semester in two CARRY-ON sized backpacks. I was awed and vowed (once again) that I really must learn to pack lighter.

Also living in the house is Anastasia, a Boren Fellow originally from New Hampshire. She has been here for two months already but had lived in both Yogya and Bandung before. She is such a blessing. I've been relying on her to for basic information such as where the spare toilet paper is kept in the house and where to go eat. She also full of interesting information about Yogya and Bahasa Indonesia. Case in point, while walking to the university yesterday she told me and John how the Indonesian word for freckles literally means 'fly shit'. And how the word for speed bump means 'sleeping policeman'. She's going to be here for 8 months studying the language. What a cool fellowship! Afterwards I think she is required to work for the State Department for a year. 

It's really great to have two other Americans living in the house. There's a third person here now too, Anya from Germany, but she'll be leaving next week. I haven't seen much of my counterpart since dinner the first night and a short meeting in my office yesterday about the upcoming semester. So it is FANTASTIC to have Anastasia, John and Anya to hang out on the front porch with, search for food with and to just have people around that I can relate to. In all my adult life since graduating college, I have never lived in a house or apartment with roommates. Well, I did live with a German family for 18 months in Switzerland but that was more of a host family situation than roommates. So, it's a novel experience to have people my own age around to do things with and explore the city with. 

Yesterday, Anastasia took John and me to Jl Malioboro where we walked down the most touristy street in Yogya filled with batik vendors and trinket sellers. Our destination was a particular store that offers a wide selection of good quality batik at fixed prices. This was convenient because my Indonesian is certainly not capable of sophisticated bargaining. Plus, what I wanted was a patchwork batik blanket exactly like the one Anastasia had gotten at that very store earlier this summer. So, we had a very successful mission. We wrapped up the day with a delicious dinner at Via Via, a Belgian owned restaurant known for its outstanding Indonesian and Western food. Plus, it's supposedly the one place in town where you can actually order a glass of wine ;-)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Moving to Yogya!

Tomorrow I'm moving to Yogyakarta!

When I decided to renew my ELF fellowship for a second year, I learned that I would have to relocate to another host site. Gorontalo was not going to be renewed for a third year. Having visited Yogya twice over the past year and knowing that the ELF project there was writing based, I asked my supervisor at the US Embassy if I could be posted in Yogya for my second year. Luckily for me he said yes!

Before I go on, here's a short excerpt from Lonely Planet for a bit of background information:

If Jakarta is Java's financial and industrial powerhouse, Yogyakarta is its soul. Central to the island's artistic and cultural heritage, Yogyakarta (pronounced 'Jogjakarta'), called Yogya for short, is where the Javanese language is at its purest, Java's arts at their brightest and its traditions at their most visible.

Fiercely independent and protective of its customs, Yogya is now the site of an uneasy truce between the old ways of life and the onslaught of modernity. Still headed by its sultan, whose kraton remains the hub of traditional life, contemporary Yogya is nevertheless as much as a city of cybercafes, lounge bars, and traffic jams as batik, gamelan and ritual. But while the process of modernization homogenizes many of Java's cities, Yogya continues to juggle past and present with relative ease, sustaining a slower, more conservative way of life in the quiet kampung that thrive only a stone's throw away from the throbbing main streets.

Yogya's potency has long outweighed its size, and it remains Java's premier tourist city with countless hotels, restaurants, and attractions of its own. The city is also an ideal base for exploring nearby attractions, including Indonesia's most important archaeological sites, Borobudur and Prambanan.

I'm thrilled that I'll be in Yogya this year, but before saying too much about why, I just want to say how much I'll miss Gorontalo. Gorontalo was not an easy place to get used to at first, but by the end of the year I really felt a strong connection to it, especially to the diving, Rantje, the whale sharks, my lovely students, the rice paddies, the fabulous sunsets, the misty mountains, the bentors, the candy colored houses and everything else. Yesterday I met Christina and Jolie, the new ETAs heading to Gorontalo, and felt both excited for them and sad for me that I won't be there. At least I'll be able to go back to visit.

Not only am I leaving the town of Gorontalo behind, but I'm also leaving the exotic, remote island of Sulawesi altogether and heading to Java, Indonesia's most populated and most developed island. A part of me longs to hold on the adventure and ruggedness that Sulawesi implies, but another part of me is also ready to embrace the comforts and sophistication of Java, especially Yogya.

I think my experiences in Yogya will be like night and day compared to Gorontalo. Just look at my housing situation for starters. Instead of being all alone in a house plagued with rats, power outages and a terrible internet connection, I am moving into what we affectionately dubbed 'The Palace' last year. My friend Amber (aka 'Princess') lived in a guest house belonging to the university. When we all descended upon the Palace for Thanksgiving last year, we were astounded at the Javanese wood furnishings, the wi-fi access, the hot showers, the goldfish ponds in the communal areas and the live-in help. And now I get to live there! Yes! I'm also looking forward to the fact that the guest house will host a rotating variety of international scholars throughout the year. It will be like Real World Academia. I've already been in email contact with an American woman named Anastasia, a Boren Fellow. And she mentioned that there's also a German woman staying at the house now. And then I learned from someone else that a Luce Fellow will be arriving soon. It'll be fun to have some interesting roommates.

Another big difference will be in the job itself. I'll be working at the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies, which is part of the graduate school of Gadjah Mada University. GRADUATE school. Just that fact alone implies that the students will be much better prepared for academic work than my plagiarizing undergrads in Gorontalo. At least I hope so. Also, Gadjah Mada or UGM is considered part of the Indonesian 'Ivy League'. When I went to visit Amber there last January, I was very impressed by everything from the quality of the facilities to the professionalism of the faculty and staff I met. My job will be to teach a writing class twice a week and then meet with students for individual consultations and tutorials to fulfill the rest of my 12 hours/week teaching requirement. I also think I'll be leading monthly movie sessions featuring films that deal with intercultural conflict.

And then there's the city of Yogya itself. I've heard that it's the second most visited place in Indonesia besides Bali. What that means for me is that in addition to the wonderful art scene and traditional culture, there will also be plenty of comforts that Gorontalo lacked.

Finally, as if Yogya weren't enough of a destination in itself, it's located very close to some other pretty spectacular places. To the west of the city lies the huge ninth century Buddhist temple of Borobudur that was unearthed only in 1815 after being quietly buried under volcanic ash for centuries. To the east are the ninth century Hindu temples of Prambanan. To the north is the mighty Merapi volcano, which garnered the following description in LP:

Few of Southeast Asia's volcanoes are as evocative, or as destructive, as Gunung Merapi (Fire Mountain). Towering 2911 m over Yogyakarta, Borobudur and Prambanan, this immense Fujiesque cone is a threatening, disturbing presence for thousands. The volcano has erupted dozens of times over the past century and some observers have theorized that it was even responsible for the mysterious evacuation of Borobudur and the collapse of the old Mataram kingdom during the eleventh century.

Lovely thought, huh? Locals routinely make offerings to appease the gods of the volcano as well as to the Queen of the South Seas who reigns over the Indian Ocean about an hour south of Yogya. The ocean waters here are reputedly dangerous but swimming is possible in protected fresh water pools and hot springs.

Overall, from my housing to my job to the availability of international cuisine to the lure of ancient temples and raging ocean swells, I think I will enjoy this new posting very much. I'm ready for this next chapter to begin.