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Hari Natal!

Friday, December 28, 2012

In every other year of my life before and probably every year after this, Christmas has been a quiet but entirely pleasant holiday, full of all the normal rituals and traditions. My family puts up a tree, we take time to decorate it, there's a lot of hurried shopping and gift wrapping, we hang our stockings, my brother and I go to our Grandma's house on Christmas Eve with our dad, just normal little things.

Christmas is a holiday mostly made up of those sorts of traditions, steeped in nostalgia and stubbornly clung to by most Americans. That includes young expats flung halfway across the world, living in a Muslim-majority country where Christmas is nothing more than an unfamiliar, completely commercial holiday recently imported from America with the likes of KFC and short-shorts.

Giant Christmas tree in Jakarta

My Christmas here in Indonesia was completely unique and by far the most memorable I've ever had.

All of us Americans living in Indonesia flew into Bandung the day before Christmas Eve, partly to attend Morgan's memorial (held in Bandung because that's where she lived) and partly so we could celebrate Christmas as a family. Bandung greeted us with a bit of confusion, and massive amounts of rain. The memorial ended up being a few hours after we arrived, when we (Avery and I at least) thought it'd be the next day.

We got dressed and attended the event, which was wonderful in that we got to remember Morgan for her life but also stressful in other ways, mostly due to some large cultural differences. Really, my experience in mourning and dealing with death in Indonesia can be very well described as 'an ordeal'. I really want to write a post about what's been happening, because it offers some cultural insight, but I don't think I'm ready to do that just yet.

After the memorial, we went out to dinner at a super fancy restaurant and slept in the empty house of an AFS volunteer. The next day: Christmas Eve! We all woke up and talked about how strange it was that it was Christmas Eve, because it didn't really feel like it. In a place like this, Christmas cheer is entirely self-produced, you can't just absorb it from commercials and overly decorated stores.

Our day consisted of visiting Hamza's house, seeing the view from their roof (which was perfectly safe, it's actually pretty common to be able to go on Indonesian roofs), and visiting a huge rock nearby where there was another amazing view. We saw the city from ojek (motorcycle public transport), angkot (little public buses) and on our feet walking. Bandung is breathtaking - it even feels a little familiar. The hills and the dense plant life remind me of Idaho and Oregon, both places that I miss immensely while I'm home in flat and normal Surabaya. It was even cold at times, a feeling that's become foreign to me after living here for so long!

We also went shopping for last-minute gifts and supplies for Christmas the next day, afterwards eating chicken porridge at a warung, surrounded by flies and our packages, elated with the joy of giving, and feeling like real Indonesians for a little while.

Christmas began in a bit of an unusual way: we took an hour or two to go by angkot back to Hamza's house. I can't even blame the Indonesians for staring that morning, we were a bit of a strange sight: seven bule, arms loaded with bags, one even carrying a giant stuffed panda wrapped in plastic (Hamza's gift for his younger host brother), sitting on angkot like it was the most normal thing in the world. And in a way, for us, it really is the most normal thing. We're just learning to embrace the odd moments as much as we can.

Naik angkot yaaa

To get all the way up to the house, however, we had to take becak. Avery and I used one, my first experience riding with three to a bike. It's not a big deal, as long as the person on the back holds on tight. But in the middle of the ride it started absolutely pouring rain, soaking us to the bone but completely thrilling us at the same time. We knew this would be something we'd never forget - blinking through streams of water, zipping through crowded Indonesian streets clutching packages to our chests, laughing about how all our friends in America were at home sleeping warm in their beds and we were out doing this. 

When we finally got out of the rain and into the house, we changed into some dry clothes and got to work cooking some American-esque food, like french fries and pancakes, for our fabulous Christmas dinner. Hamza and David ran out to buy paper and styrofoam and extra scissors so we could get to work making a tree and some stockings and other decorations, because the pre-made ones at Hypermart were waaaay too expensive.

Once all the decorations were done, we hung them up, I accidentally fell asleep, David sang for a video of a medley of maybe twenty different Christmas songs, and we all gathered around our unorthodox, but undeniably amazing little tree to exchange gifts. The night petered out a bit, as all Christmases seem to, and we all ended up falling asleep watching movies.

Like I've mentioned, it was a very different experience than all of us are used to, but through sheer willpower we made Christmas happen - with all that we had. It goes to show that you really don't need anything but your own good energy and cheerful spirit to make a holiday happen or a season bright. I thoroughly enjoyed my Indonesian Christmas, random bouts of 'huh-everyone's-probably-opening-presents-now' homesickness aside.

The next day, we had to go to the airport fairly early, but first we visited a large traditional market in Bandung. When we left, the street was busy and damp from the rain and kind of embodied everything I had imagined Indonesia to be before I left. All of Bandung is like that, and it was a little strange stepping into the world I had thought would be mine.

Finally sitting in the plane next to Avery, with my blanket over our laps reading a book of Indonesian slang I bought at the airport, I got the feeling that I wasn't just going back to Surabaya. I was going home. But, more than that - I was heading for the rest of my exchange, and I was/am ready to tackle the challenges head-on. Bandung was an amazing weekend and a welcome refresher, and now it's time to get back to real life.

Oh, Bureaucracy

Thursday, December 27, 2012

My host family and I are planning on taking a vacation to Thailand soon, but seeing as I'm here on a single-entry visa, we have to find a way to allow me to legally exit and re-enter Indonesia. That basically means having to wrangle up documents, photocopies, letters, copies of IDs, and best of all, $100 US (how much of that is official and how much is a bribe I have no idea) in order to get me an exit permit.

If Indonesian bureacracy isn't world famous for it's incredible complexity, then it really should be. It's been a huge headache trying to figure out what they want, who from, original or not, by what day, and etc. Especially since I don't understand all of what people say to me in Indonesian - I usually understand a little over half, enough to get the gist, but not enough for me to feel completely confident when I'm trusted to relay information and remember what to get and where to bring it and to whom it should go. I'm happy that I'm being given responsibility and kept somewhat in the loop though. Yay independence, right?

I'm extremely excited to go to Thailand (I'll be visiting Bangkok and Pattaya) but I think after this I'll be fine not leaving the country again. Bureacracy is just toooooo much work! I've also decided that I just cannot become a diplomat or ambassador like I wanted to before I came here. Being on the opposite side of the counter when it comes to mountains of paperwork just doesn't appeal to me, and neither does the idea of sitting in long meetings for hours every day.

I'll find another way to travel! Lately everyone's been telling me to become an English teacher here, to go to Jakarta and become a model, or to get married to an Indonesian so I can stay. I'll just say that I'm considering all my options equally...

After, this a post about my Christmas in Indonesia! Stay tuned, dear ones.

Embracing Fashion, p. 2

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

In my previous blog post I said that I've been a model here more than once already, after only about three months. Kind of crazy, right? I deeefinitely didn't expect that to happen, either.

In America, I blend in amazingly well, and I hate having my picture taken. But in Indonesia, because I'm a bule (white person) I am automatically 'cantik' - beautiful. So when I met my host mom's two friends, a makeup artist and clothes designer, they told me within about ten minutes of meeting me that I must become a model for them. I agreed, in accordance with the exchange student law saying "never say no". Also, because what girl doesn't secretly want to be a model?

The day we were supposed to model my host mom, Avery (the other girl living here in Surabaya with AFS/YES Abroad), and I headed to a salon where we were made up and had our hair done for approximately two or three hours. Watching myself go from a plain, freckly and pasty girl to an Indonesian-style beauty queen was quite an enthralling thing. When I first saw my full transformation in the mirror I couldn't believe it was actually me. Berbeda sekali - veeeery different!

This picture: makeup, co-starring my awkward swim tan!

The studio was a few minutes' drive away, and we all hurriedly changed into ill-fitting (for our non-model bodies) but extremely fabulous designer clothes and got in front of the camera. There was even a male model there to pose with us.

I wore a red dress and a bridal dress, both of which barely fit because of my non-Indonesian proportions, and tiny but extremely tall silver shoes which hurt to take off, not speaking of how bad it was to wear them. Avery and my host mom wore kebaya and more Indonesian-style clothes and of course they looked absolutely gorgeous in them.

Modeling was super fun, definitely tiring and even a bit nervewracking. Being highly inexperienced in front of a camera, I had no idea what expression to use, where to put my hands, who to look at... little things like that. I was pretty convinced I botched every single picture I was in, but everyone there was really patient with me and a lot of the shots turned out awesome. And I learned how to be a model, so in the event that I'm called upon again for my bule beauty I'll actually know what to do!

Can you see the bug bites on my legs?

After the studio we had a smaller shoot in my host family's house. I wore an over-the-top kind of dress reminiscent of a fairy, and we all took pictures posing on a wooden couch in our little front sitting room. It was all good fun but the most memorable moment of the evening was definitely when I took off my makeup to find that half of each eyebrow had been cut off in the process of my makeover... that was deeefinitely an unpleasant shock.

I may or may not have had a bit of a panic attack about that discovery, having already had a bad salon experience in Indonesia. Basically, I went to just have my hair dyed dark brown but ended up getting a surprise haircut with black, not brown hair and I couldn't say a single word! From now on, my hair will sadly have to go uncolored and uncut, in the interest of preserving my fragile exchange student sanity.

That was my first modeling experience. In a word: awesome. My second actually happened today, 19 December. This week there's a school competition called Cereal which I will post about soon, and one of the competitions is Cosplay! I entered along with a girl from the Social class above ours - she wore a kimono and I wore a schoolgirl uniform - and we ended up winning with two scores of 9.5. Probably because we actually got the judges to come up and stand/dance with us, which was a genius idea on mbak's part.

Today just solidified my new-found appreciation for the whole process of putting on makeup, getting dressed, primping carefully and finally stepping in front of an audience, whether that be a camera or over a hundred Indonesian high schoolers. Maybe that's not a life path for me, but I'm so thrilled that I can have glimpses of it in manageable doses.

Embracing Fashion, p. 1

Say the word 'fashion' to me and I'll instantly think of cat walks, frantic dressing rooms and in-house tantrums: my views of the modelling and fashion world have been shaped by constant reruns of America's Next Top Model.

Not that I haven't wanted to explore that world for a long time now. I love scrolling through fashion blogs and thumbing through magazines, where stunningly beautiful girls glare at nothing, their faces caked with makeup and their bodies dressed in the latest designs. Fashion is an incredibly unique form of art and it's just amazing seeing what people can do with some cloth and a willowy figure.

So naturally, when my host mom asked me if I wanted to follow her to a fashion show (invite-only of course) I jumped on the opportunity. A real fashion show, right in front of me? A chance to observe the social elite of Surabaya in their natural habitat? Heck, yes.

I put on my makeup, my dress - white lace, theme of the evening being 'a touch of white' - my leggings and borrowed some sandals. We drover to the country club/hotel where the event was being held, met up with some of my host mom's friends and promptly panicked and flurried around to find a solution when my borrowed sandal broke in a way that meant I couldn't walk in it whatsoever.

Thanks to some very nice concierges who taped my shoe back together - and made sure it was solidly repaired by pounding it with the heel of a walkie-talkie - the night was recovered and we went to sit for the show.

This, like so many other things in Indonesia, was a "first" for me. My first fashion show was, in a word, faaaabulous! The designers featured were mainly, if not all, Indonesian and that was reflected in their designs.  I saw some kebaya, a traditional style of Indonesian's woman dress, that would sell for at minimum US$50.000. Mostly the women who buy them are celebrities and the wives of high-up government officials.

One of the super expensive kebaya

There were also wedding fashions and normal Western-type dresses, most all of which took my breath away. It's one thing to see high fashion in print, but another entirely to see the models right in front of you, and take in the entire experience of the show. I had my camera up nearly the entire time and took an insane amount of pictures.

I think that if nothing else I can dream of being a fashion photographer someday because it's just so fun to try and get the perfect shot, and nothing compares to the pride felt when you do. Here's just a few of the shots I liked, if I posted them all this blog, and my poor modem, would break.

Along with going to a fashion show and generally learning how to be a high-class and elegant lady with my host mom, I've had the opportunity to model here. More than once, actually, and it's only been about three months! But, I will talk about that in my next post because this one is long enough already!


Monday, December 10, 2012

If you're at all connected to me, AFS, or YES Abroad, you probably already know this news. I'm crushed to say that recently a member of our YES Abroad Indonesia family, Morgan Lide has passed away. There was an accident while she was swimming in Bali. 

Writing about someone who was so bright, and had such an incredible future ahead of her is so difficult. When someone this young dies without warning, everyone else is left to pick up the pieces, to try and find the answer to the simple but also extremely difficult question: 'why?'

We all have our own answer to that question. I guess I'm still searching for mine. Morgan was infinitely kind, giving, and passionate. I'll always remember her as the girl who kept me up until one AM talking while we shared a room in Washington, DC, who wanted to live it up as much as possible while in Indonesia, who gave everything to life. She was truly an amazing person, who was and is loved by so many around the world.

Being luckily sheltered from death of close friends thus far in my life, it's been a little difficult for me to make sense of the whole situation. All I know for sure are these things: first, that Morgan isn't gone, not completely. Her energy lives on, and so does her memory. Second, that tragic as it might have been, she died doing exactly what she wanted, and the way I see it if one has to die that's the way to do it. And third, from now on all of us in Indonesia are living for her. Every experience is done in memory of Morgan, who had such a short time abroad and in life.

If you want to know more, please read this article. It does a great job explaining the situation and explaining about the kind of person Morgan was, much better than I could ever do. Selamat jalan, Morgan, I know we'll encounter each other again someday.

The Great Affair

Friday, November 30, 2012

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” - Robert Louis Stevenson

I'm fascinated by journeys. The first time I got to fly in an airplane was years ago; I was in fifth or sixth grade, maybe, and the idea that I could be packed into a metal tube and hurtled through the sky at 500 miles per hour was an earth-shakingly awesome one.

The ride itself was anticlimactic. I remember sitting there next to my cousin, staring at the plastic emergency procedure sheet in the back pocket of the seat in front of me, thinking this is just like a bus... but in the air. This is it?

I guess I'd expected something more exciting. Turbulence would have thrilled me, if only to stir up the horridly stagnant three hours from Salt Lake City to Chicago.

Since then, I've flown more times than I can now count. To places as far as Surabaya, where I am now. To boring gray places (Wisconsin), to legendary places (New York City), to life-changing places (Denver, CO).

I'm terribly at home in airports. I love putting my headphones in and walking down the long concourses, buying grossly overpriced food, and sitting down to watch people flow by endlessly.

I give everyone a name and a life. The girl in the grey cardigan is off to Miami to be reunited with her boyfriend. The old couple with dusty leather suitcases are going to see their newborn grandchild in Conneticuit. The two boys in board shorts and Keds are famous in the European underground indie scene, and they're just a few hours away from playing their first big show in Los Angeles.

But now, it doesn't just take a trip to the airport or a journey miles and miles away from home to enchant me. I love car rides, especially here in Indonesia. The natives always get frustrated in traffic jams, but I'm just as happy staring out the window while we're stuck as I am when we're weaving our way through the cars like normal.

Because I don't often get to go out and walk around, seeing Surabaya through the car window is my favorite way to feel connected to the people and the pulse of life here.

I watch as street food sellers wheel their carts from neighborhood to neighborhood, as men sit in their multicolored pedicabs waiting for customers, as labourers squat on the curb to have a cigarette. Children, young wives and professional racers, complete with jerseys and their strange aerodynamic helmets, roll by on their bikes. People of all ages and from every walk of life stop to eat and relax at the many warung (tent restaurants) lining the road.

Occasionally we need to make a U-Turn, and to help us do that there are men in frayed orange vests directing traffic with nothing but whistles and their arms. They collect 1000 RP tips from still-moving cars with practiced ease.

I keep watching, and the sights in front of me change from the shining business district to a quiet residential area to an industrial cluster within minutes. Surabaya is a city that's all smushed together, a place where shack houses are propped up next to expensive restaurants. From day to day, the sights are different, so there's always something new to take in.

Of course if one goes to Indonesia, one cannot avoid taking sepeda motor, or motorcycle/motorbike. Motorcycles are the most efficient means of transportation here, and they're everywhere.

On the back of a motorbike (always the back, because I'm forbidden to drive, not that I know how to anyway!), with all the protective barriers of a car stripped away, I'm right in the middle of all the action. Fellow riders are just a hair's width away, and so are giant cars, trucks, and buses. The first time I rode a motorbike I was absolutely terrified I'd fall off. Now it's my favorite mode of transportation.

There's a saying that goes, "life isn't about the destination, it's about the journey." I believe this is absolutely true. I'm never singularly focused on the mall or the supermarket or school, I'm always enjoying the sights passing by. I'm not most looking forward to the end of my exchange, when I'll know how to function in Indonesian and have all the memories of my year behind me, I'm focusing on enjoying things as they come.

Even the boring days, the days where I feel aimless, the days that are difficult to get through. The days where I grow, and become a more interesting and worthy person. I'm learning how to live each moment to the fullest, because this year is a countdown.

I only have about seven months left in Indonesia. Seven months doesn't leave time for wallowing in sadness or being afraid of what other people think. Seven months means that if I want to explore my neighborhood, learn the language, or try a certain food, I can't waste time being afraid. Because I'll never get this year, this day, this moment back.

Life is too short to wait. Life is too short to think only about the destination, the culmination of an experience. It's so easy to think you understand this concept while you're at home, living the same life you've always lived, where time seems to stretch on forever. There's no rush to do anything because there's no foreseeable deadline, there's no end to the opportunity to experience things.

It takes coming abroad to truly realise that time is always limited. Every moment is a moment stolen from death, a moment closer to departure, a moment that disappears into forever if you don't spend it wisely.

So? It's time to take a risk. To seize the moment, seize the day, to live completely without regrets. To not just enjoy the journey, to become the journey. To jump into the action, not just stare through the window, saying "I wish" instead of "I will".

To trust that everything will work out for the best. To trust that the journey is taking you where you need to be. To trust that everything will be okay in the end, and that if it's not okay, it's not the end.

To live. To move. To be. And to love, every moment of every day, with no fears and no regrets.

Fabulous Adventures in Buddhism

Monday, November 19, 2012

88% of Indonesians are Muslim - In fact, this archipelago is the largest Muslim country in the world, exceeding even Saudi Arabia (or other more conventionally thought of Islamic nations) in population of Muslims. Most of the people I interact with in my day-to-day life, from my classmates to my host family, are Muslim.

But Indonesia still is a multi-cultural and multi-religious place. When registering with the government one must declare a religion - and there are six to choose from, not one. Here, you can be a Muslim, Protestant, Catholic, Buddhist, Hindu, or Confucianist.

Being the ever-curious exchange student that I am, while learning about Islam I also want to learn more about the other religions that exist here. In Boise, Buddhism is small, Hinduism is smaller, and Confuscianism is, as far as I know, non-existent - and I'm immensely curious about theology. So where better to educate myself than here, a country where temples are large and people are open and enthusiastic about their beliefs?

My host family, after learning of this little goal of mine, were awesome enough to bring me to two of the Buddhist/Hindu temples in Surabaya so I could see first-hand where people worship.

The first was a Buddhist temple that's actually less than five minutes away from my house, by foot. It was closed when we got there, but they graciously opened their doors and showed me around. I learned about the Bodhisattvas, ones who are close to Nirvana but do not enter it, because they want to help save the living beings left in the world from suffering. Bodhisattvas are worshipped as deities in Mahayana Buddhism, which is the type practiced here.

I was also taught how to pray to the Bodhisattvas, and how to have my fortune told... basically, you hold a wooden 'can' of sorts, which is filled with flat sticks, and you shake it until one stick falls out. The sticks all have numbers on them, and the numbers correspond with papers which have small readings/fortunes on them. The one I drew said that I am a peaceful and unperturbed person, which is something I'm working towards becoming here. So, pretty accurate ya? I'm happy with it.

The guru who lives at the temple also came to speak especially with me, which was an enormous honor seeing as our visit was pretty much completely spontaneous. He studied in America so his English is really good, and it was just amazing speaking to someone who is so wise and respected. I was invited to group meditation the following day, which I attended, and will talk about in a moment. I left the temple with some free books and a lot of gratitude towards the people who were so kind to me and my host parents.

Inside said Buddhist temple... those are the Bodhisattvas, and in front of them is the chair the guru sits in during meditation. You can't see it in this picture though.

After the first temple we drove to another, which is inside something which I might describe as an Indonesian theme park... without the rides, and the hoardes of people. It's called Kenjeran Park. Basically there were a lot of interesting structures and places for people to walk, and this being Indonesia, to take multitudes of pictures in front of. It was sort of empty when we went and I was told that it's dangerous at night, but from the car window seemed interesting enough.

Anyway, Kenjeren is famous for its statue, The Four-Faced Buddha, which is the largest monument of its kind in Indonesia. I'll let pictures explain, but I'll also say it was beautiful and peaceful, and I got to watch a man leave offerings of flowers and incense in front of it too.

(The story behind the four faces is that Buddha has four good senses - compassion, generosity, justice, and meditation. In his hands he's holding holy objects like defence weapons, books of scripture, holy water, prayer beads, and etc.)

Also in Kenjeran there's a big Buddhist temple. It was much bigger than the one by my house and a lot of people were visiting that day. The smell of incense and sound of old Chinese men chanting prayers made the whole place feel sort of magical, in a way. I can honestly spend hours in places like that, standing in front of the multiple altars, smelling the fragrant air and feeling perfectly at peace.

But, while I was in my little trance ayah invited me to go outside, which confused me: I didn't know there was anything out there. But to my great surprise (and joy!) there was a huge, gorgeous gate, and.... the OCEAN! I'd been waiting forever for the moment when I could finally see it. Surabaya is near the sea but I've been constantly told that the beaches here are disgusting so I haven't gone. When I saw it I literally jumped and squealed and ran out to just stare out into the vast green emptiness.

Ugly lil fishy things. I don't know how they breathe out of water but apparently... they do! 

Cut to the next day: since I was invited and the temple is uber-close to my house, I attended meditation with some other Buddhists in Surabaya. I had no idea what to expect and honestly during the ceremony I really didn't have any idea what was going on... because it was all in Chinese! Luckily I was sitting next to some kind people who told me the gist of what was going on, and I used my specially honed exchange student skills to just copy the natives.

Basically, there was a lot of chanting, and in the middle of meditasi, as it's called, the guru and a few helpers built a big fire in a stove of sorts. Into the fire went different offerings like flowers, food, and perfume. I was told one is supposed to imagine a white light in their body, while the fire cleans away all the bad karma accumulated over the week. And of course there was silent time for personal meditation. Overall, the service was amazing, so I decided to go to the second one on Sunday morning.

After the short walk to get there, to my surprise (and joy), I discovered that on Sunday there's makanan gratis - free food! The ceremony was the same as on Friday but I stayed an extra hour talking with some of the people there. Most of them are Chinese who were born and grew up in Indonesia, and they were incredibly kind and welcoming to me, as all people here are.

I'm excited to go to meditasi every Friday and Sunday, if only to experience a different part of Indonesian culture and learn more about the complex but beautiful religion that is Buddhism.

JOGJAAA (and Solo)

Friday, November 16, 2012

My trip to Yogyakarta (Jogja) and Solo with my host family started like many a journey has in America - with my face mashed up against the chilled window of a car, my butt in pain from sitting on it in the same position too long.

After about eight hours of intense driving, during which we spent a terrifying amount of time in the wrong lane trying to pass slower drivers, we arrived in the city that's famous in Indonesia for it's traditional culture, and famous in the world for it's proximity to the largest Buddhist temple in the world. Jogja!!

Our first day started with a tour of the king's palace, and a peek into a complex of pools where rulers from long ago would watch sit and watch their concubines dance. (The girls were all competing to be chosen to spend a night with the king.) We even got to see where they prepared themselves and stored their makeup.

A parade in the king's palace

Some of the king's guards in batik - very Javanese 

At the palace
The 'water garden' as it's called, where the mistresses of ancient kings would perform

We continued our walk up through a residential area, where the families of the palace guards live. I was told that the people who live within the palace feel very blessed: they have jobs, they don't have to pay taxes, and they're honored to serve their king. The pace of life in this city is much more relaxed than in Surabaya.

Jogja and Solo are actually special administrative regions, because they are ruled by royal families, so they aren't under the control of federal government. Unlike the monarchies in Europe, the kings here do still have power! On the tour of the palace we also saw some rubble left over from a massive earthquake a few years ago, and an ancient underground mosque.

Walking through the residential area - the two men are from Paris and were on the same tour with us. Traveling is so fabulous in that you can meet people from entirely different corners of the world, but still have an instant bond with them. 

Stairs to the underground mosque... just a wee bit claustrophobic.

Some of the rubble from the earthquake

After our tour of the palace we went on our way to Borobudur, the World Heritage site and biggest Buddhist temple in the world. It was originally built in the 9th century by the Javanese, using simple tools and egg whites acting as concrete, and then abandoned in the 14th century with the arrival of Islam. Then Borobudur was rediscovered in 1814 by an English ruler in Java and underwent several restorations afterward. There are something like 500 statues of Buddha (a lot of them headless) and over 4,000 reliefs on the walls. Thank you to Wikipedia for this information, hehe.

Except for the part where we had to pay much more for me to get in because I'm foreign ($10 US while the Indonesians paid around $3), the experience I had at Borobudur can only be cliche-ishly described as 'magical'. I love visiting ancient sites, and imagining myself walking in the footsteps of people who lived hundreds of years before me. It honestly just blows my mind. In the tradition of this blog, enjoy a picspam! I think Indonesia is slowly turning me into a more fabulous photographer.

Inside the little cap thing (called a stupa) is a statue of Buddha. If you can lean in through the hole and touch the statue, you're a lucky person. I could!

Close to Borobudur was a smaller Buddhist temple that we randomly stopped at. On the steps I could smell something familiar and dear to my heart... incense! That stuff just makes me happy. Inside there were some breathtaking statues and a small altar in front of them. I lit some incense as an offering to the gods; it's only the polite thing to do, especially when my life, as of late, has been so full of blessings. Gotta give props to whoever's up there makin' it all happen.

After that, my host family and I went shopping on Jogja's most famous street, Malioboro. In both Jogja and Solo, batik is plentiful and cheap, so we bought a lot of it. We also saw bule banyak - a lot of white people! After being around Indonesians for so long it was a shock being reminded that there really are other people in the world who look like me. Every time we saw a foreigner I ogled just as much as any Indonesian would. Crazy what a month and a half abroad can do to you, eh?

The next day we visited an old Dutch fort and a diorama museum. Theeeenn.... off to Solo! The drive is only a few hours but the vibe in Solo is different. Apparently there's a rift in the royal family so the city isn't as well cared for as Jogja, but I personally liked Solo just the same. We visited the king's palace, a museum of the royal family, and went shopping again. Shopping is like my new hobby. The malls and markets here are amazing compared to Boise, where there's only one mall full of football memorabilia and knick-knack stores, and the various '-marts' are your best bet for affordable clothes.

Inside the Solo king's palace

A tower where a mystical ghost princess lives. It's said that she comes out to dance when ever there's a show for the king but only special people can see her.

A palace maid in traditional Javanese dress
After staying overnight in a real five-star hotel (very swanky, and connected to a mall) and looking around a bit in the batik market on Sunday morning, we started the long drive back to Surabaya. The traffic heading into the city was crazy because so many people were returning to work after spending the weekend with their families in the village. It was also the Sunday after a large Muslim holiday, Eid Al-Adha, so I'm sure that didn't help - the journey took maybe ten very long, boring hours. But, it was definitely worth it. 

So, a big big BIG thank you to my host family for being epically epic and showing me all the sights of these two magnificent cities, and thank you to anyone we encountered there who showed us the true kindness and hospitality of the Javanese. I hope I can go back someday and really discover the hidden gems nestled away there, just like I am in Surabaya. And of course, thanks to my readers who are so understanding and patient with me being the silly blogger that I am. Makasih ya!

AFS Weekend

Monday, October 15, 2012

So I should probably make a post about my first few weeks here, but that would be pretty boring for me to write. Instead I'll summarize it by saying it mostly was made up of riding around Surabaya going to the police station and immigration, visiting my new school and getting my new uniform, visiting Malang (a town a couple hours away from Surabaya), having a welcome party for me (which I will write a separate post about), and starting my school year here. Things are going very well, including my language acquisition. I can now say more than 'saya suka' ('I like it')! Also my Indonesian class is amazing and I like school a lot; for one I can bring my laptop and take random pictures in class...

Anyway this weekend Bina Antarbudaya Surabaya (the equivalent of our AFS chapter) took Avery and I up to a traditional village named Nganjuk a few hours away so we could experience that side of Indonesian life and get in a few post-arrival orientations too.

The drive up was long and tiring, probably because we set out at around 8 and got there at midnight-ish. But I realized that I like long car rides in Indonesia better than America because on the Indonesian equivalent of the Interstate, there's never really a break in the long line of houses and shops lining the road. So there's always something interesting to look at while you're in the car. It's much better than getting into a trance staring out at the endless desert like I usually do while on trips in America... although I do love and miss the scrubby Idaho landscape.

During this orientation we stayed with a volunteer's family, whose kindness was incredible and very Indonesian. Basically they never stopped offering food - I was told that "when you go to an Indonesian's house, you'll leave with a full belly." It's so true, and so great. We couldn't have asked for kinder hosts.

The first day, we had a short language session and then went off to visit a local vocational school. There, village kids learn about agriculture, auto repair, cooking, and I'm assuming much more. We walked around the school, were stared at (slowly getting used to this), visited the school's livestock, learned how to use a mortar and pestle, and had a short English-speaking panel in front of a class. It was interesting to see another kind of Indonesian school since I go to one that more resembles a traditional high school.

Anak ayam - baby chickens!

Domba-domba :) - sheep

Ibu domba dan anaknya - A mamma sheep and her baby

When we got back Avery and I promptly passed out, then we walked out of our room expecting to have another session. Instead we all just watched MasterChef Indonesia and a show called Asing Star - or, Foreign Star. Asing Star was hilarious because the entire premise is bringing on bule (foreigners, mostly white people) to sing songs in Indonesian. None of them were very good singers but purely by being bule they were TV material. Crazy, right?

After we had our fill of Indonesian TV we all got ready and went out for dinner and to see a kind of carneval happening that night. Dinner was sate gambing - basically mini goat kebabs - and gule-gule, yellow soup flavored with coconut... not my favorite dish but still good to try. The carneval was low-key when compared to American carnevals: the rides were mostly just little mechanical cars, the kind that go up and down a little and are for little kids. But it was loud, in a good way, and the night was warm and the village lit up at night was a lovely sight for an exchange student like me to see. (Excuse the rhyming)

When we got back: another session. So much laughter with AFS, and I got a few important questions answered which is always good. And then sleep, lots of it!

The last (also second) day we spent in Nganjuk started with a trip to the traditional Indonesian market. Can't remember what it's called but basically lots of stalls selling everything from bras printed with Angry Birds to rice spoons all crowded into one building. We tried two new foods - they're not very pretty but they were both delicious.

Bubur ayam - chicken porridge. With sambal and kechap of course!

No idea what this was called or even really what was in it aside from sticky rice and things made out of jelly. 
One of the most memorable experiences I had in Nganjuk was just walking around the village with Ines, Sinta and Avery, seeing how the people there lived and of course spending quality time with their livestock. One woman shared her house with her two cows and chickens (one of which almost attacked me because I touched its baby, oops). The people there have a completely different lifestyle from that in Surabaya: the pace of life in the village is slow and people might not seem to have much, but they still smiled and welcomed us into their homes and backyards without hesitation.

Halfway through the drive home we also stopped at a town called Trowulan to see a couple of ancient temples, ruins left over from when Indonesia was the center of Majapahit, a huge and insanely wealthy kingdom. We saw the Bajang Ratu gate first, and then Candi Tikus which was a queen's private swimming pool. At Bajang Ratu there was a photoshoot going on and Avery had the fabulous idea of getting a picture with the male model...

Bajang Ratu

Candi Tikus

The sign says 'don't climb'. Oops. Silly bule!

And then finally we drove the rest of the way home and got dropped off at our houses. A very very awesome weekend filled with bonding time and getting to know more about the people who are taking care of us this year in Bina Antarbudaya. Seeing the village just a few hours away from my home smack in the middle of bustling Surabaya made me even more excited (if that's possible) to see the rest of Indonesia.

About me

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I'm Sara, the freckled bule, one out of eight of the coolest people in the world. I spent a year in Indonesia as a KL/YES Abroad student but now I live in Boise, Idaho. Welcome to my bloggity blog.


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