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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Avery and I have been hanging out a lot lately, all around Surabaya. We've both started to take more public transportation now that we know the language and the culture enough not to be complete bumbling bules.

I can take angkot (public van) to and from school alone and plan on learning how to get all around Surabaya with it before I leave. It's one of my major goals for the rest of the time I have here - before I came I always pictured myself as an awesome, strong, independent woman who could hop onto a sketchy bus and get herself anywhere in the city... and I just can't disappoint my outbound self.

Riding angkot isn't particularly comfortable, but it's pretty dependable, dirt cheap, and good for some interesting experiences. I've met plenty of people and already gotten totally lost once. I plan to get lost again, if only for the sake of learning each angkot's route. Because apparently the only way to learn that is by word of mouth; no maps of the city with each one's routes helpfully highlighted exists. One's gotta rely on one's friends and family who might know in learning how to get around.

Anyway, without much further ado, have some awesome pictures from when Avery and I had some walks (jalan-jalan) around Surabaya. Our schedules are starting to get more and more jam-packed as the year progresses... it's been five months already, just four more until we go home in June. Crazy how the time flies.

The view from the observation tower at Masjid Al-Akbar,
the largest mosque in East Java and second largest in SE Asia

The Indonesian equivalent of girl scouts!

Entering the house of sickness

Thursday, February 21, 2013

*Just a warning, in here I mention blood so if you're ultra squeamish about that, sit this one out!

**The title of this blog is a play on the literal translation of 'aku masuk rumah sakit' or 'I enter the house of sickness' which is how to say 'I went to the hospital' in Indonesian

The other week, I spent about four days in the hospital. It was my first ever extended stay in a hospital (I've only ever been in the ER, and even then only for a few hours) and it was actually fairly pleasant. Aside from the part where I was sick. Lemme explain...

I started feeling sick when we came home at around 9 PM from our two-day AFS orientation in Bandung. At first it was just sort of uncomfortable and 'I-don't-like-this-feeling'-y but then it turned into a burning fever along with other crazy symptoms which left me curled up in bed, super weak, delirious, and really glad when my host mama decided to take me to the hospital after she got home from work the next day.

At the hospital I was hooked up to an IV which delivered the nutrients (sodium, chlorine, and something else) my silly body refused to hold on to. I got admitted to a room, which was reeeeaaaallly nice. Sadly I didn't get a picture to show you guys. I had it all to myself, there was even a cable TV and a bed for guests. That there was another bed makes sense here: in Indonesia there's no such thing as visiting hours in a hospital, meaning family members and friends can, and do maintain a constant vigil. 

The first night I slept in the hospital was kind of a haze because I was still crazy feverish... at some point my IV thing came out of my hand and blood/fluid leaked out onto my pillow, and that's the last thing I can remember from that night. After that, whatever they gave me worked and I woke up feeling much better, but I still had to spend the next two full days in the hospital until all my symptoms went away. 

Me, feat. IV

Mostly while I was staying there I hung out with people, watched TV (in English, for the first time in MONTHS! With commercials and everything!), and played on my laptop. Members of AFS Surabaya, family, and various friends were there to keep me company pretty much the entire time I was admitted, and I'm crazy grateful for them. I know it must have been boring, as hospitals don't exactly offer much in the way of fun and excitement.

I also kept getting checked up on by nurses, and occasionally they would mercilessly inject syringes full of strange clear fluids into my IV until my hand swelled up. I was honestly very well taken care of in the hospital, getting probably the same quality care that I would've in America, or perhaps even better. I've been pretty impressed by the medical system in Indonesia so far, though thank God I've only had to experience it first-hand only one time.

The final diagnosis turned out to be dengue fever. Or, my doctor said something along the lines of "we think you might have had dengue fever and that's why we need to keep you here for an extra day so your blood can go back to normal..." 

But seeing as it's the only one offered, I'm accepting that diagnosis. But fear not, gentle readers, my actual sickness only lasted like two days and I survived half of it alone, which I guess proves that it'll take more than a mosquito-born jungle illness to do me in. 

Hello, My Name Is: THAT CRAZY BULE

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

In a nation of mostly homogeneous people, who all share common traits - dark hair, dark eyes, skin that actually ranges in shades from white to near-black but always has the same kind of tint - being different gets you noticed. It's natural.

I am a siren of a person. In a crowd of Indonesians, I am the one brown head in a sea of black. I have peachy pale skin and freckles splashed across my apparently excessively sharp nose. Everything from my height and weight and facial composition advertises DIFFERENT. I cannot be anonymous here, not even if I wear hijab and duck my head. Trust me, I've already tried.

That's the first element of the life of a bule: not being able to blend in, ever. As I've mentioned here before, 'bule' is the word Indonesians use for a foreigner, but is also used to refer to white people in general. It's become something of a second name for me as I've settled into daily life here.

My bule-ness follows me everywhere. Somehow, my pale skin makes me rich (I still don't know how to get it through to Indonesians that Apple products are expensive in America too), beautiful, glamorous. It also makes for an excellent excuse for everything I do that might be strange or slightly socially unacceptable. Being bule means that usually, Indonesians assume I don't know their language or their way of life, they even kind of expect me to be strange. Any faux pas I make can be laughed off to the tune of 'oh, she's just a silly bule, she didn't know better!'

It's an incredibly convenient excuse for me to take advantage of all life has to offer here (within reason, of course). It's entirely liberating in this respect. But being a foreigner living in Indonesia also comes with a slew of challenges and little difficulties, that never really ease with time.

One of the biggest issues of being bule here is all the stares. I've already elaborated how different I am, and how stark that difference is. Just like someone with hot pink hair in America would attract a few extra looks, being bule in Indonesia means that everyone has to have a good, long look.

I can understand this. Especially in some places I frequent, like the market or school, bule are an extreme rarity and people are curious to see me there. Surabaya, despite its close proximity to Bali, has very few white tourists. I'm something different appearing in people's day-to-day life. I can't begrudge them a look or even the occasional "where are you from?"...

But sometimes, extreme visibility just plain sucks. I can't walk around without being looked at. Everything I do in public will be watched by someone. I'm a living breathing representation of my homeland, and the pressure to always make a good impression can be intense. If I'm tired but someone tries to get me into a conversation, I feel horrible if I don't respond... despite the fact that every conversation is exactly the same for me, right down to the typical questions and answers:

  • Where are you from? (Amerika Serikat)
  • Where do you live in America? (Boise, Idaho)
  • Idaho? Where's that? (Near California...)
  • Where do you live in Indonesia/Surabaya? (*insert the name of my Indonesian neighborhood here* Oh! Yep, it's actually okay to give your address to random people here, not that I ever have. They even put the home addresses of celebrities in the newspaper.)
  • Do you have a boyfriend? (Noooope, and no, I don't want one either!)
  • Do you like Indonesia? (Very much)
  • Can you eat spicy food? (Not really, I'm not used to it, it hurts my mouth if I try)
  • How long have you been in Indonesia? (Four months)
  • Can you speak Indonesian? (I can, but I'm not yet fluent)
  • Can you understand Javanese? (Oooonly a tiny bit)

And so on. 

Sometimes it feels like my humanity is forgotten, especially in the moments when I walk in a crowded alley or in a market. Reactions can be extremely dramatic. It's like I'm a celebrity or some ultra-famous supermodel, and not just a plain girl in plain clothes with no makeup on. This past weekend I was with Avery, the other AFS student in Surabaya, and after we took a walk through some alleyways near a mall to try and find the bus that would bring us home, we scrambled to try and remember all that happened to us. 

What happened indeed, right? We were sung/shouted/stared at, stared at for dangerously long by motorbike drivers, and followed by children... among other things. It's rare for all of that to happen all at once but it does go on in smaller doses almost every day. And honestly there's not going to be an end to the occasional discomfort of being foreign here, because bule will always be the interesting minority. It's just something to deal with day-by-day.

I kind of feel like I might be giving the wrong impression of life here, though. Prospective exchange students to Indonesia, have no fear!! For the most part, after the first glance, Indonesians will leave me to my own devices. In the mall, staring actually isn't so bad. (Shop workers are terrified of me and my assumed lack of Indonesian skills, though. So, usually when I go to buy something they'll scramble to shove the best English-speaker in front of me, but that part is understandable when so many bule live in Indonesia without learning the language.) People are usually respectful, and extremely kind-hearted and curious. A bule in Indonesia will be hard-pressed to suffer from a lack of friends. Language mistakes are forgiven and generosity seems to be endless. I honestly love my life here, even taking into account the tough bule days.

The experience of being 'bule' has been a very, very different one, and that's what I was looking for when I set out to live abroad. I think I'll always define myself that way, even when I'm back in America and surrounded by people like me. 'Cause being bule doesn't just mean being white, it means you're a foreigner who has the bravery to live abroad in a technically third-world country, and you're willing to wear that on you like a badge. And I know I am. 

(There's another really good blog post on this topic right here, so take a look if you're interested! Thanks for reading this one.) 

Sara goes to THAILAND!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

AKA, cue the sparkles and dancing chorus! I got to explore this crazy continent a little more!

I posted about the mess concerning my exit permit, which I ended up getting on time, thankfully. But, partly due to laziness (sorry guys!), I've been procrastinating a bit on posting about my lovely dream in Thailand.

Simply put: it was five jam-packed days, full of sight-seeing, photo ops and of course shopping. (Maybe too much shopping, seeing as I ran out of money several times.) We went to the cities of Bangkok and Pattaya, guided by Fatima, a lovely Thai girl who spoke perfect Indonesian without having ever been there.

Actually, it turns out Indonesians are a big source of tourism in other South East Asian countries. At one point we were in a souvenir market, and instead of trying to use English I just went ahead and did all my bargaining in Indonesian. I might not have gotten very good deals in the end, since I'm still a bit squeamish about haggling and I'm still just a white tourist. But at least I got to practice my host language in the most awesome way possible, in a foreign country with non-Indonesians!

Also I got to see the world famous temples, Wat Arun and Wat Pho. Wat Arun was across a river and we took a boat to get there, while Wat Pho (the Temple of the Reclining Buddha) was housed in its own gorgeous building. Inside said building there was a long line of tin pots, and an equally long line of people dropping tiny coins into each one, filling the entire place with the sound of clinking. The money goes towards the local monastery, as monks depend on the generosity of others to survive.

The souvenir market in Bangkok

Wat Arun, the temple which the market was close to -  with stairs of death!

Wat Pho, where we stopped near some altars (that were outside) and ended
up being randomly blessed by a monk

I had my first swim in the ocean in Pattaya, which is a fabulous and very touristy town about two hours away from Bangkok. I was a bit nervous, but everything was fine and it made me just a little sad that there's no good beaches close by in Surabaya (or in Boise). Being a beach party town, Pattaya had a TON of white tourists, mostly from Russia. It was surreal being surrounded by people who look like me, after four months of living in Indonesia.

In Pattaya there was also a floating market - the actual shops (most of them sold overpriced souvenirs and weren't much to look at, really) were on wooden foundations over the water but many of the food vendors operated out of boats like this one.

At night we were treated to the most glittery, fabulous, over-the-top drag queen cabaret show I've ever had the privilege to witness. Granted it was my first, and it was complete with campy numbers dedicated to perpetuating stereotypes about other Asian nations, a tribute to Gangnam Style, and something involving sexy penguins.

My Indonesian friends have been very fascinated by my pictures of the lady-boys, who were more beautiful than I will ever be. (Only slightly jealous). I'm pretty sure the ladies made more money by charging for pictures with tourists out front, than they do for actually being in the show.

But before that, we saw a Thai cultural show and got up close to some elephants. (Craaazy close actually, seeing as we were sitting on the same floor where elephants were coming in and out!) Later they had a show where the elephants rode bicycles, painted pictures, and played basketball. But my favorite part of all was getting to sit on the back of a baby elephant, and getting picked up by two adults. So awesome to get to interact with such beautiful and intelligent creatures.

Over the next few days (I'm a bit too scatterbrained right now to organize everything chronologically, sorry!) we visited a four-face Buddha monument where people were actually going about their daily practice of worship. Witnessing the influence of Buddhism in Thailand was one of the most fascinating parts of being there. Small altars in restaurants and stores abound; the dashboards of cars are festooned with small statues of Buddha while flower garlands hang from rear-view mirrors. The religion is just adapted into parts of daily life, just like Christianity in America and Islam in Indonesia.

I walked around the area of our hotel a bit, and saw a part of town crowded with tourists from the Middle East, India, and Africa. The busy streets, and the sound of so many languages being shouted out, was like heaven to me. It's part of the reason why I love Southeast Asia: life spills out into the street. Everything is bustling. There's a pulse all around, a strong vibe of purpose, and a sense of community that's just impossible to find anywhere near my home in suburban America.

We ate dinner and took a river tour of the greatest sights in Bangkok, including the king's palace and Wat Arun, lit up at night. It was a bit difficult to get good pictures seeing as my camera hates darkness, but the food was amazing and the views pretty spectacular.

We saw a laser Buddha carved into a mountain... 

Fatima and meeee

... and took a stroll in Bangkok's famed red-light district. It was a lot cleaner than I expected. Like a normal night market, just with more night clubs and some risque things for sale in some of the stalls.

And when it was time to go home, Ronald in the airport sent us off Thai style. Also notable, I had Subway in that airport for the first time in forever and it was MAGICAL. It even had bacon. A fantastic end to an amazing getaway abroad. 

I want to say, thank you so much to everyone who helped me get to Thailand, to those in-country who showed me hospitality, and to my host family for putting up with me for five days straight! And of course, to my American family for funding the trip. It's inspired me even more to chase my dream of travelling around the world, and I honestly can't wait to become like the numerous backpackers I saw there. 

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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