An Anecdote

Between being the only Westerner in the area—a tall, pale, blonde one at that—and the language barrier, which I’m slowly chipping away at (I swear), several humorous scenarios have occurred here in Indo, usually at my expense, and never without my appreciation. Well, maybe I appreciate some of them only in retrospect, which is good enough, as far as positivity is concerned. 

My first day teaching. Despite asking my co-teacher Awal that I only observe class the first week, to get a hang of things, and his agreeing to such, I immediately find myself at the whiteboard leading the lesson. Simple past tense. Easy enough, even with the lack of planning and momentary lapse in remembering what exactly “simple past tense” is. Similar to how people sometimes forget, only for a moment, if first cousins are “actual, full-blown” cousins and not one of the “other types of cousins.” No, just regular cousins. Got it. 

I’m at the board and writing out a few examples of phrases commonly used to indicate the past (yesterday, last night, etc.). But as I’m doing this I realize I haven’t labeled what exactly I’m listing! Good god! The children will be lost without a proper heading. I immediately title this section of the white board: “Examples.” Looking at their (perpetually) confused faces, I clear the air: “Ex-am-ples.” Still confusion. I have the genius idea to translate this word, which I am pretty confident I know in Bahasa: “contoh.” Except I make a pronunciation mistake. In Bahasa, “c” is always pronounced like “ch” in English. I forget this. So I say it like “kontoh,” which sounds very similar to “kontol,” which means “penis” in Bahasa. Just a teacher pointing at the board and shouting penis at his students…on his first day. The kids were thoroughly amused, as was Awal, and I proceeded to spend the rest of class assuring everyone that “went” is indeed the simple past tense of “go.” 

More to come later. Possibly about the lack of indirect lighting in this country, which, if you know me, just really gets my goat. 

  

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Makan! 

I’ve been in Indonesia for three weeks now. I haven’t been stationary. To give you a rough guide of my travels: Jakarta (1 day) —> Martapura (5 days) —> Bandung for orientation (2 weeks). Now I’m back in Martapura after a flight delay, a night in a Palembang hotel, and a 7-hour ride in a travel van with other random passengers going to the Baruraja/Martapura area. There’s a million things I could talk about, but for brevity’s sake, I’ll talk about eating in Indonesia. I’ve literally done this everyday since being here, so I feel confident in my ability to discuss.

When Indonesians eat, they have rice. With every meal. It’s so very important here. Most meals have a protein dish—like chicken, fish, or tofu—to accompany the rice. Spicy broths and steamed veggie mixes often find their way onto the table. My favorite food so far has been the various satays I’ve eaten. Satay is meat on a stick. I’ve yet to have a chicken satay + peanut sauce that I didn’t think was the best chicken satay + peanut sauce I’ve ever had. They just keep getting better! Also, kerupuk is a staple of the Indonesian dining experience. Kerupuk are beige, fried, crunchy, chip-things with fish flavoring. I enjoy using these to finish off any remaining rice.

Getting back to rice—Indonesians aren’t satiated unless they’ve had rice at their meal. Fried rice is commonly served for breakfast. Other meals always have white rice. A few of the first times that I ate at my boarding house, I didn’t throw any rice on my plate, prompting my host (Bu Laras, more or less my surrogate Indo mother) to smile at me, grab the bowl of rice, and say, “Nasi?!” We both knew that rice was right there on the table, and she knew I knew this, but it would have been a damn shame if I somehow forgot to eat some rice before excusing myself. At orientation in Bandung, my co-teacher Awal and I were waiting in line to eat at the welcome dinner. He looked a combination of nervous and famished—I’d never seen him like this. “Awal, what’s up?” He stares at me with grave concern: “I need rice.” He cheered up ten minutes later, halfway through our meal. He needed rice. 

 

Nearly-accurate sign at our hotel for orientation

 
The end of meals usually consists of fruit and “toothpicks.” The fruit here is fantastic, and I’ve tried several fruits I’d never had before. Papaya, snakefruit, guava, mangoes, and cocunuts are common in my village. As for toothpicks, it seems to be an integral part of the meal to pick out any remaining bits of food stuck in your teeth (At least it is for men. I’ve yet to see women do this, come to think of it). But often without toothpicks: it’s perfectly acceptable to make this particular sucking sound (I’m sure there’s a word for this very thing) after eating. Accompanied by cigarettes and conversation, this sound fills the room, marking the end of the meal. I haven’t quite gotten the hang of it yet, so I practice alone in my room for an hour or so daily. I just want to be one of the guys.

That’s all or now. Eventually I will share some thoughts about my school, its fabu students, and its smoke-filled teacher’s lounge (Aside from rice, I’d peg cigarettes as the hot-ticket item of Indonesia). Sampai jumpa!

Another picture of non-traditional food from Indonesia