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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!

Morgan

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.


 

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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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