Stories

Before writing this entry I thought about how I should go about it.  It’s been months since I last posted and too much has happened for me cover everything.  Instead of thinking about what I should post about and categorizing my thoughts and experiences, I sort of did what I usually do when I go abroad: get lost.  I let go and let this perfect storm take me.  Of course, there have been markers and highlights of the past few months that I should mention but elaborating on those as the meat of this entry would not quite represent the past few months.  I actually pondered about this while I was showering, somehow cold water and the smell of feces beckons creative cohesion.  It’s actually the small things that better express the attitude and funk of the past few months.  So I chose 3 distinct stories to begin with to give you an idea of the types of days I have here aside from the larger markers and highlights. 

As a preface:

School had pretty much ended after I created the final test for my English classes.  My counterparts were all set up and only had to administer the test.  I too had finished my own Econ final for my online class.  The result of this grand finish was a room that looked like it had been ravaged by a tornado or the Tasmanian devil (pretty much the same thing, really) and questionable personal hygiene.  I had a blossoming mustache that honorably remembered my facial hair endeavors from PST and my hair looked like an overgrown Chia pet. But I felt good.  I had made it through.  So I went out into the post-rain night air and pushed out a genuine workout as hard as I could to sweat all the stress and turmoil of the past few weeks.  I showered and climbed into bed, eager to reorganize my life the following day with a good night’s rest under my belt. 

#1

I awoke the next morning to a text from a fellow PCV inviting me to go to the beach with a few “peeps.”  Unaware of whom “peeps” alluded to; I shrugged and hopped into the shower to get ready.  Cleaning my room and shaving could wait.  I craved social interaction.  A bike ride, hour long bus ride, and a supremely overpriced angkot ride later I made it in one piece.  I met up with a few familiar faces and some new Indonesians that my friend had met who were in their 20s as well.  We hopped into a rental and headed toward to the beach.  As we drove the sound of thunder roared in the sky and huge gray clouds began to creep in.  Still defiant, we forged on and finally arrived at Papuma, a local beach I had visited earlier on in service with my school for my welcome party.  I hopped into a fishing boat, took off all my clothes, and changed into my board shorts before bee-lining into the water despite the rain.  The water was perfect with a strong current.  We did manly things like daintily skipping rocks, posing for pretty pictures, and floating poetically in the ocean.  It was pretty liberating, to say the least.  We eventually made our way to a beautiful lookout point to watch the sunset and then had dinner at a local outdoor restaurant.  We sat outside on a platform table by candle light, sipped on fresh coconut water, and peeled rambutan while we waited for our food to be cooked.  Grilled fish served with a healthy side of veggies and rice eventually came.  We ate with our hands, eagerly picking meat from the fish and sweating over the sambal.  Hell, even the mosquito brigade didn’t seem to bother me much this time around.  We had a feast in front of us, good company, and the sound of waves in the background.  As we drove home that night, half dozing off/half trying to keep a conversation going, I laughed so hard I cried from all the stupid jokes.  I can’t remember the last time I laughed that hard. 

It’s always the unexpected days that are the best.Image

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The Rambo changing boat 🙂Image

This is my friend Tony.  Tony can jump really high.  In his underwear no less.Image

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The View

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The Food.

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#2

I had just gotten back from a small trip with a few other volunteers feeling deprived of physical activity and wanted to get in a good jump rope workout in before the rain started around 2pm.  The time was 12:30 which meant I had about an hour and a half before it would start raining.  I sloppily put on my sneakers and snatched my jump rope and iPhone (timer and set list).  I began the workout feeling fine and powered through the warm-up and a bit of the peak of the workout when it suddenly hit me.  This dizzy, tired feeling swept over me.  I was in a haze.  It might have been the dehydration, the excessive caffeine consumed earlier that morning, or unnoticed fatigue from the aforementioned trip.  Nevertheless, I pushed on, stumbling through the workout.  Nearing the end, I felt the small sprinkling of rain and moved under cover to finish.  Sprinkling quickly became a deluge of rain.  Truth be told, rain in Indonesia resembles gunfire and the popularity of metal roofs only intensified the effect.  Meanwhile, I had already sweated through my shirt.  My light grey shirt now looked like a dark grey shirt made of heavy, wet fabric.  Sweat was beginning to pervade my loins and I was still floating around in a fog.  Doubtful of my will to finish, I made myself a promise: finish this workout as fast as possible and you’ll allow yourself to cool off in this glorious downpour that you’ve always thought about doing.  I suppose it was a good bet and I sucked it up for the last few sets, collapsing in a heap of relief after finishing.  I removed all electronic equipment and shoes that I didn’t want to get wet and uninhibitedly walked into the rain, laying in the puddles and choking on the heavy rain that was making its way up my nostrils.  If you were watching you would probably think

1. I had let Peace Corps service get the better of me and had gone crazy

OR

2. I was being possessed by demons

Because, although my head was firmly rested on the floor, my chest was convulsing up and down either in joy or for the need to breathe.  I remained in this trance-like state for what felt like a blissful eternity until my hardened nipples warned me of hypothermia and I retreated back into the world of the living.  If anything, it was tantric.  In short, I’m actually enjoying the rainy season.

#3

I was waiting on my front porch with my Ibu, talking about something I can’t remember, and waiting for the Internet dude to come and fix our broken connection.   It was a rare moment considering I had been out of the house intermittently since the end of the semester.  I got a text from one of my students inviting me to watch a Silat competition at a neighboring school.  The time was 5:30, the call to prayer blasted through my village, and the sky was a dark blue with streaks of orange, pink, and red.  I strapped on my headlamp and naik’ed the shit out of my supercool bike that all my concerned Indonesian friends warned about being a “woman’s bike.”  Along the way, I’m blasting old trance music I used to swear by when I was in High School (I had red hair, bead necklaces, and glow sticks to the maaaaaaax) that I recently discovered on my hard drive.  To this day, I still don’t understand how an American on a bicycle can outride 70% of the motorbikes on the road.  I mean, seriously, do you have ANY dignity?  I arrive at the school gym all sweaty and excited, my shaky hand gripping my DSLR as if the moment I walk into the gym some crazy shit would go down.  Instead, I was greeted by a few students in uniform who were surprised to see me.  The gym was muggy, save for any breeze coming from the open doors, and smelled like sweat, floor padding for martial arts, and tiger balm.  I am home.  There are a few men that are clearly the headmasters of the event; wearing white gi’s endowed with colored belts and walking around with an air of authority, unlike the younger competitors wearing black attire without any belts.  I ask one of the students what the colors of the belts mean and he explains how the color ascension goes in the order of: white, yellow, green, red, brown, black.  I am relieved to see that while most of the headmasters are wearing yellow, my teacher has a brown belt strapped around his waist.  This guy is THE FUZZ.   We are in intermission before the final fights and the floor is open for practice while the headmasters watch and critique.  Despite already being covered in sweat from the bike ride, I approach the floor after being called by my teacher.  He grabs a pad and orders me to kick. 5 years of Tae Kwon Do as a kid and nearly 10 years later my roundhouse is still as strong as it was before.  I’m thwacking the crap out of this pad making my teacher bounce back and reacting to his shouting.  By this point, I’m panting and wheezing.  My teacher, with a look of surprise on his face, turns toward the other headmasters and says in Javanese, “Only three months this guy has been training.  Maybe a few more and he can start competing against your guys?”  The other headmasters remain silent and expressionless, which probably means if I ever decide to compete, this strange-looking bulay is going to die a very agonizing death. 

The finale starts and fighters enter the floor.  The competing floor is a perfect square with a judge sitting on each side facing the center.  At two opposing corners stand the fighters, wearing a chest guard and a cup, and two seconds that observe, advise, and deal with any injuries.  Fighters ceremonially pray to enter the floor, are read the rules by judges, and searched for hidden weapons in their sleeves and pant legs (not even kidding).  Fighters emerge into the ring and fight for three 3 minute rounds.  Strikes to the head and pushing are forbidden but everything else is game.  It’s open season and I’m told all of our fighters have not lost yet in the preceding rounds.  We win some matches and lose some.  All the while, we’re hollering and screaming; them in Javanese, “AYO MAJUUUUU!!!!” and me in English, “GET HIM.  KICK HIS ASS!” Then the students begin to mimic me, “HAY MAAAAN KECK HEZ AZZZ!”  It’s unquestionably one of the best martial arts experiences I’ve had to date, inappropriate words and all.  At the end of the evening, everyone crowds around my camera watching the play by play, pointing and screaming at all the insane takedowns they got.  I shake everyone’s hand and take a nice long bike ride back home in the cold night air thinking: How can you NOT love silat? 

Since I last posted it’s been a wild ride.  I’ve been to Bali, attended a long training in Surabaya with fellow volunteers, celebrated my Birthday in, quite possibly, the best pub ever, watched a cow sacrifice, had a surprisingly American Thanksgiving feast, went rafting, and visited a volcano among many other things.  I really can’t complain.

This picture pretty much sums up Bali.Image

Cake. Steak. Red Label. And a Pub.  What more can the Birthday boy ask for?  Thanks FOLKSImage

Hi Cow

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Bye Cow

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WARNING: This video contains animal sacrifice, blood, and gore.  Proceed with caution!

Turkey Turkey TURKEYImage

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Party Party Partiiiii

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Lucy. PWNED

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No, not Mt. Doom but pretty close to itImage

Next week, I’ll be heading further East to climb this beauty: 

Mt. Rinjani, the tallest volcano in East Java. Image

To my friends in Japan: rest assured I will prep more effectively than I did for Fuji.

 And then afterwards…recover on Gili Trawangan. Image

For a week.  Be jealous.

Will post more when I return.  Happy Holidays/End of the World/New Year!

Mike out.

#PeaceCorpsLivin

The Hunger Games

I am ashamed to say that I haven’t always been so keen to which of my friends back home are Muslim until I started living here. Looking back, my ignorance probably stemmed from the relatively arbitrary role religion played in my life in the States and in Japan.  But here in Indonesia, religion (Islam) rules supreme in nearly all daily affairs.  Mainly, I’m referring to Ramadan.  Up until two days ago, I had been fasting for Ramadan to get a better feel for my community and get some extra brownie points from my counterparts at school and family members.  What started as mostly a meaningless challenge to see if I could actually pull off not eating and drinking during daylight turned into a surprisingly meaningful cultural lesson on my community.  Truth be told, most of that learning came in the past few days as fasting came to an end and my community started celebrating Idul Fitri or Eid Mubarak (as my Muslim friends in America refer to it).

I still remember the first few days before starting fasting.  It scared the hell out of me.  I couldn’t imagine not eating or drinking during daylight hours and had only heard about fasting through a friend from college (Hi Lina!) about her friends that woke up well before dawn to work out and eat, struggling through the day feeling weak, and doing it for a whole month.  “The hell am I doing?” I thought to myself.  But I’ve come to find out that my life before Indonesia was pretty cushy no matter how deprived I might have considered myself (and still now in comparison to people living around me).  My first few months in the Peace Corps has taught me that when push comes to shove, I can actually put up with a lot more shit then I think.  From the dirty bathrooms, spending time in solitude, not being able to fully communicate with others, to, until recently, fasting all day, there’s really not much to it.  Stop thinking, stop complaining, and just do it.  Nike might not have been too far off the target after all. 

Nevertheless, the first few days were pretty intense.  After practically eating twice the amount of normal food I would usually eat at 3:30am before the sun rose, not eating during the day was cake.  Not being able to drink water was a different case entirely.  Despite drinking nearly 3 liters of water at night and peeing every few minutes after breaking fast (roughly around 5:30pm), not drinking water during the day was excruciating.  I felt like a walking poster boy for all those strange side effects from those pharmaceutical advertisements (Side effects may include dizziness, dry mouth, and death?)  But after awhile I realized that it was a lot like needing to pee on a road trip.  Knowing that I couldn’t eat or drink increased my urge to eat or drink when I couldn’t.  Once that mental barrier broke down, fasting became second nature and I was even able to work out pretty normally during fasting hours. 

My favorite part of fasting was probably the last few minutes in the evening before we broke the fast.  Since the breaking of the fast aligns with the sun setting, it occurs at a different time everyday so the best way to know exactly when to start eating is to listen for the call to prayers broadcasted from obnoxiously loud PA systems sprouting from several mosques that are sprinkled around the neighborhood.  I loved those moments so much.  The entire family would gather on the front porch, sit on the couches, watch the kids play, and wait for the call to prayer.  These casual meetings were not abnormal before fasting but during Ramadan it was much more regular and having them made me revisit an epiphany of mine from a while back after hanging out with my family on the front porch about how silence is conducted in Indonesia.  I had actually written a small blurb about it because I was afraid I would forget:

Indonesians do silence right.  It’s not like the awkward pauses I have in a lot of the interactions I tend to share with most Americans where we shuffle from sputter to sputter, just trying to fill empty gaps.  Silence is dignified here.  No abnormality.  No insecurity.   And while it should, in theory, make me uncomfortable since I’m used to talking a lot, it puts me at ease instead.  At first, I thought I was mentally bargaining with myself but later realized that I was actually pretty content with not talking.  Meeting with foreigners during my service can be a bit jarring, going from having an option to not talk to an obligation to talk.  I actually need a few moments to adjust my communication style, almost like a fish switching tanks.  Aside from having an ice-cold coke, there’s not much that can beat sitting on the front porch not saying much with my host family just watching the kids run around.  This must be what retirement feels like but I’m curious how I’ll answer a year down the road when someone asks me again about silence.  I wonder if my answer will be different.”

During Ramadan, breaking fast becomes more of a social event.  As an “important” member of the community, I had the privilege of breaking fast with a variety of people for various occasions.  Regardless of the venue, the process of “berbuka puasa bersama” (breaking fast together) followed a general structure.  You meet around 4pm, have a few people speak, have a group prayer, and pray individually in the Mosque right after the call to prayer before eating. 

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Following the last days of fasting, we began to celebrate Idul Fitri and, coincidentally this year, Indonesian Independence Day.  The best way I can describe Idul Fitri is a love child between Halloween and Christmas.  Families circulate their community from house to house stopping at each to chat and forgive each other for the year’s misgivings.  I believe the standard greeting during these visits entailed, “Selamat Idul Fitri, mohon ma’af lahir dan batin” which literally means, “Happy End of Ramadan, please forgive me for my physical and emotional wrongdoings” My host brother warmly referred to the process of home visits as a “greeting marathon.”  And a marathon it was indeed.  We walked into nearly 30 homes within the first day, shook hands with each member of the family, sat and ate snacks, and left shortly after to the next house.  By noon, I was in tatters and was glad to hear we were done for the day only to discover that after a quick nap the family began to hit the town hard again in the evening.  Little to say, I cowardly retreated to my room to regroup for the next greeting marathon the following day. 

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 Despite how tired I was, there were a few touching moments during visits that really threw me off guard and showed me just how important families and communities are to Indonesians; some even a bit too emotional and tender for me to document on my camera.  In one instance, we were visiting a family friend of my host family.  Like usual we all entered with handshakes blazing and toothy grins shining.  My host mother immediately walked to the back of the dimly lit house where an older lady that looked well into her 90s was sitting.  My Ibu knelt in front her and placed the older woman’s hand on her cheek as a sign of respect.  The grandmother pulled my host mother’s forehead to her own and shared a long prayer together.  As they prayed, my Ibu, the most stoic person I have ever met, was just crying, tears streaming down her face and they embraced for a long while, saying a few things in Javanese that I couldn’t quite make out.  I might not have known the context of the situation or what this woman was to my host mother but it was probably one of the most intensely human encounters I have ever experienced here and it, among many other instances, showed me just how close my host family keeps their friends and family.   

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 When all is said and done, Ramadan has been an enjoyable learning experience.  A fellow volunteer mentioned to me that this time of the year is like a different world and she couldn’t be more right.  Ramadan seems to have stopped time here for a bit, allowing everyone to enjoy each other a bit more amidst the usual bustle of typical Indonesian life.  In terms of personal reflection, the transitions into and out of Ramadan have revealed and reinforced more cultural nuances than I had expected but I would be lying if I said I haven’t enjoyed the process.  As time unfreezes on this side of the world and we return, I am looking forward to FINALLY entering a classroom again to resume my educational development work.  After all, that’s why I was sent here….right?  

Second Chances

Let’s skype.  Really.  It would be so much easier to tell you about my permanent site that way instead of having to pick one or two highlights and type it out.  It would be a disservice to my memories, truly, to have to decide what’s most important for me to share.  In reality my experiences are not bits and pieces that I can pick apart, they come as a package, all intertwined with each other and adding something unique to the end product, the present.  Unfortunately, in this day and age that’s not necessarily possible.  So here is my schizophrenic account of my first month at site. 

Living in my village is fun.  It’s like when I was in middle school playing Command and Conquer, sending out troops to explore terrain and turn the dark areas of the game map into visible territory.  I love to spend my time getting on my nifty cruiser bike (basket and bell included, you best believe) and get lost around town finding all the hidden pockets off the main road.  So far this is what I’ve come to surmise about my new home.  Most people here work in sugar or tobacco.  There is a large sugar factory in the center of town as well as many tobacco plantations and drying compounds littered throughout.  My village doesn’t really feel like a village.  Instead, it’s more of a passerby town off the main road and next to a larger city.  It’s almost like a town you pass driving down the 5 in Cali.  That being said, my village still has a quaint, cozy warmness to it that only a Southeast Asian village could have. 

I live with a cluster of families in a compound made up of 3 separate homes.  Very rarely do I know who I’m talking to but I have a few people pegged down in my memory.  In the house that I reside, I live with my host mother and father.  Nice, honest people.  Very soft spoken and shy but have the most genuine smiles that appear whenever you truly deserve them.  They have a young 4-year old daughter who is LOUD.  When I first arrived, I was more concerned about the local mosques and motorbikes clouding my yoga routine but damn.  Fortunately for me, I’ve worked with kids before and have found ways to deal with her.  For all the AEON folks reading that are teaching at B schools, those Harry and Frank classes you dread every Saturday morning might just save your life one day.  Trust me.  Loud as she is, she is still a sweetheart and I came to find out that she’s actually adopted.  Even more brownie points for my host parents.  I live next door to my host mother’s niece and her husband who also have a 4 year old daughter.  I suppose that would make them my host brother and sister.  I’ve taken quite a liking to my host brother, a tall and well-built man with a peaceful face and calm disposition.  Originally from Bali, he enjoys spattering with the occasional foreign nut and has made my time here so much better. 

 As for my school, I am set to teach at an SMK, a vocational high school.  My school focuses on three main sectors: Motorcycle mechanics, Agriculture, and Information Technology.  Teaching at my SMK means only one thing: rowdy boys, roughly 500 of them.  I was told by my Regional Manager before coming that the reason they sent me to the school was because of the need for a loud, obnoxious, male volunteer to put a handle on school discipline.  I’m not sure if I should take that as a compliment or an insult.  Either way, I hope the boys at my school like to wrestle because I get down.  Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to teach yet considering I came into my site in the midst of a two week vacation and the month of Ramadan.  Lately, going to school equates to planning with my counterparts, helping with Orientation activities, and stealing the school’s sweet, succulent WiFi.  After meeting up with another volunteer this past weekend, I remember one funny moment when we both mutually agreed that there hasn’t ever been a time in our lives when we wanted to work this badly.  Patience can just suck on my virtues.

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When you see it…

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Mandatory haircuts for boys with hair that was too long.

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Pwnage

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My permanent site is located an hour out of Jember, an up-and-coming city that’s looking to develop itself into something more of a Surabaya or Jakarta.  Does it compare?  Probably not.  But their attempts to gain notoriety afford me a few unique experiences.  This past month, I went to the Jember Fashion Carnival and walked 35km in the Tajemetra.

A fellow teacher at my school had been asking me for a while to come out and join the school in walking the Tajem, a walk from one city center to the Jember city center 35km away.  I agreed and shortly found myself being poked and prodded by doctors to check if I was healthy enough while other teachers watched and murmured amongst themselves about the crazy foreigner and what he was about to do.  While it wasn’t impossible, it wasn’t easy either.  After arriving at registration by rickshaw (no I’m not kidding), we faced masses of people getting paperwork filled out and ready for the race.  Hoards of people formed, what could best be described as, an overcrowded hive to get to the starting line. 

The walk took about 6.5 hours with two stops in between featuring food vendors and musical performances but we only stayed a few minutes to stretch and sit for a bit.  Never did I find myself alone while I walked since people from the villages we were passing through came out to support by selling food, blasting walking music, and, in my case, staring at the foreigner.  By the time we reached the finish line it was around 9:30 pm but we couldn’t leave because the transportation was so backed up so we all fell asleep on the street (literally).  I got home around 1am tired, stiff, and smelling like feet.  I know.  I’m so sexy. 

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Dead.

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JFC was awesome!  It kinda reminded me of Pride in SF.  Ornate costumes, flamboyant personalities, and hoards of civilians with their over-sized cameras…present company included.  The Jember Fashion Carnival, according to my hosts, is the 3rd largest festival in the world, which features extravagant costumes dawning from different lands.  But let’s be honest, it’s just an excuse to be rowdy and get hopped up on some Bakso and Pop Ice right?

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Someone once said that first impressions are everything but I beg to differ.  I believe that, in some cases, first impressions can be misleading and it’s up to the individual to take a step back and realize that people deserve more time to show others who they are and what they’re all about.  Call me cheesy but that’s something I’ve picked up living here these past few weeks.  So much can be misconstrued and if you let it snowball, you’ll find yourself in a negative rut.  My first month at my permanent site serves as a prime example.  From the constant stream of visitors that frequent my house at night to the kids who stand outside my room window every morning screaming, “Hello Mister!  What’s your name?” it’s always a battle to understand that curiosity fuels the majority of the undeserved attention I receive here.  So far my life is a lot like riding a roller coaster: its better to just laugh it off, let go, and enjoy the ride. 

You Can Call Me Smim!

Well folks, I’m officially a full fledged Peace Corps Volunteer.  After 10 weeks of language, teaching, TEFL classes, and in-community experiences, I have finally been released and now entering into a new community and a new school.  The only thing that’s different is there’s a two year commitment attached to almost everything I do and I’m pretty much the only foreigner in the vicinity (let alone the only foreigner the members of my community has met).

Since my last post, I’ve done a lot but haven’t had the time to really write about my experiences or, let’s be honest, think about them.  Life as a trainee is tough.  The blogs and forums weren’t lying.  After a few weeks of consistency, the dryer switched directions and left us in a jumble.  To date, I have coordinated with a local High School to have a day-long English Camp, visited an existing PCV, helped my host family prepare for a wedding party, attended my first Indonesian soccer game, nearly died on a mountain, and met the US Ambassador to Indonesia to formerly swear in as a volunteer!  In between, there has been plenty of delightful happenings with my host family and shenanigans with other trainees.

Setting up an English Camp with a local school was like summer camp on crack.  Pat DA, if you’re reading, you would be proud.  The entire exercise was built to give us an opportunity to create something out of nothing.  Get consent.  Use no money.  Make an impact.  The camp lasted a few hours and was divided into two stations, one run by the ladies and the other by the lads.  Half of the time, students were indoors learning about American culture and the other half was dedicated to outdoor activities focusing on team building games using English.  It turned out pretty well and the students seemed to respond to it pretty well.

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Before trainees become volunteers, we have the opportunity to visit an existing volunteer to get a better idea of the life we would be living once we got to our permanent site.  I was fortunate enough to visit a most beautiful site in Pacitan, a small surf town enclosed by a region of thick mountainous forests that makes transportation in and out of the city a complete nightmare.  Another trainee and I boarded a travel (essentially a mini-van taxi) and headed off for the 8-9 hour journey.  Road conditions were sketchy.  Big trucks and motorcycles were aggressive.  I was completely convinced I was going to die engulfed in a fiery hellfire of twisted metal.   Luckily, our driver was a ninja in disguise and somehow managed to safely transport us to our destination.

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Here’s something you might have not known about me: I’ve always been curious about what it’s like to work in a restaurant.  Heck, I’ll do anything.  Have me wash dishes till my hands turn white.  Cook until I lack eyebrows.  Serve food to whiney customers.  Whatever it is, I’ll try it.  Call me crazy but when shit hits the fan, I enjoy the chaos…so long as my job is simple.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think that it was possible during my service here in Indonesia but this job has a habit of surprising you.  I had such an opportunity preparing for an Indonesian wedding with my host family.  Weddings here are usually prepared by the family and take place within the village of residence.  In anticipation, the family begins to prepare for the event almost a month in advance by cooking and baking to accommodate the masses of guests.  A day before the event, all the men of the community convened to set up the infrastructure of the event including a structure built to provide rain cover, a karaoke stage built with wooden planks, and decorations.  Meanwhile, the women continued to cook.  Fresh coffee was brewed and the entire family slaved through the night without sleep to finish preparing.

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Indonesian weddings are truly an experience.  Guests funnel in and out staying for no longer then 30 minutes and the wedding party itself starts early in the morning and lasts all day until early morning of the next.  Food is continually served and there is no actual progression of events.  People just hang out in nice clothes, eat food, take pictures, and listen to live music.  The newlyweds greet guests and stay in a special display built for them to take pictures.  Eager as most PCT’s are, we opted to work as food servers for the wedding party in the evening.  You can imagine how pleasantly surprised our families and guests were to have foreigners at their service.  Bucket list item #43 accomplished.

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Soccer. I can never quite figure out sports and why people like them so much.  I’m usually the guy who blankly stares at the game, nursing a beer, while others are freaking out about the score.  I just don’t get how people can get so riled up or be able to make so many predictions about trades, ratios, etc.  Don’t even get me started on the Facebook feuds that swarm through the statuses and comments of our fair digital community.  It just seems so petty.  I do enjoy live sporting events though.  Indonesians love soccer.  It’s the standard here and you see people play it everywhere.  It almost makes me feel uncultured to be American, and thus disconnected from this international following for soccer.  Going to my first soccer game inIndonesia, you could say, made up for some of that.  Arema vs. Mitra.  Fans piled in and even with more expensive tickets we couldn’t manage seats.  But who cares?  We had rowdy fans, fight-prone soccer players, fireworks lit in the stands, and…OMG!!…legally ambiguous energy drinks conveniently sold in chilled plastic baggies.  Strangely, I feel at home here.

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I have this obsession.  It’s really quite mild but occasionally it gets me into trouble.  I like hiking and I do it everywhere I go.  I like the silence that grows as you venture further or higher away from civilization.  I like the feeling that you get when you make it to the top and look behind you to see what you’ve accomplished.  I like that numb/sore feeling in the legs you get when you’re at the bottom, exhausted.  Every once in a while, however, the hike will get the best of you.  The last time that happened, it was on Mt.Fuji and I nearly froze to death were it not for my hike mates that woke me up after I blacked out and the friendly group of French hikers that agreed to keep me warm with their body heat after I failed to prepare proper clothing and bring enough food and water.  I was stupid and I assumed I wouldn’t be that stupid again.  Guess not. HikingMt.Panderman was fun and exciting.  The view was unbeatable and I felt above the clouds but two volunteers and I went off the beaten path and got lost.  We ended up near the summit but faced a final uphill climb that seemed doable from where we were standing.

As we climbed, the path steepened and eventually disappeared.  The terrain became mud and loose dirt.  Pretty soon, I found myself nearly vertical grabbing onto nothing but the roots of plants and digging my feet into the dirt.  Rocks fell behind us and at one point I had to catch another volunteer as he slid down into me.  Absolutely terrifying.  Humbled by the steepness, we moved sideways to find another way to summit.  Eventually, we hit more stable ground with plenty of trees and bush that we could grab onto to slowly climb up to the top.  Covered in dirt and sweat, we safely made it to the top a bit jarred but it made the view sweeter and my victory meal a bit tastier.  Moral of the story: Stay on the path.  Idiot.

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So now, I’m sitting in my bedroom at my permanent site.  Kids are flying kites outside, my host mother is screaming at me to “makan,” the local mosque is blasting the call to prayer, and I’m chewing on some pineapple mentos, typing this entry.  So much happens so quickly and it’s hard to write about everything.  The next entry should entail more about my permanent site and how my first week was here.  In the blog world, I’m still catching up so sit tight.

Beginnings

 

I still remember when I first read the blogs of both PCV’s in Indonesia and those in other countries.  It seemed like the most common way to describe the Peace Corps experience was in extremes, polar-opposite on a spectrum: It’s the hardest job you’ll love the most; it’s horrible and so awesome at the same time.  Sitting in my room in San Jose, it was really hard to fully grasp that concept and it actually frightened me in a giddy, unsure fashion.  In other words, I was fully convinced that active volunteers were completely off their rocker and I really was in for a treat.

I may be new to this whole Peace Corps thing but I’m starting to grasp that idea of a job that is experienced in extremes.  As many experienced volunteers and staff refer to it, it’s a roller coaster.  One day, you’re floating on sunshine and nothing can touch you.  The next, I have lost all hope for humanity because of the smallest infraction.  I now have an idea of how people with bi-polar disorder must feel.  I sympathize with them.

I may be a bit late in the game for the overall summary of my village and the pre-service training experience in comparison to the diligence of my fellow trainees but I am assured that I have an all-together, different audience then my peers.  I am living in small village near Batu in East Java with 5 other volunteers.  In total, there are 46 volunteers in ID6 (the third group of volunteers to venture into Indonesia after the program’s revival 2 years prior since the 70s) that represent countless regions of America, lines of work, language training, travelling credentials, and really, just characters.  I feel like we’re a portable example of America’s diversity.

I often remind the trainees in my village that I am living the healthiest I’ve ever lived.  I wake up at dawn and push out a workout before my mind registers the pain, eat breakfast, and out the door before 7:30am.  I spend the next 7 hours studying the language in a small class setting.  Afterwards, we mess around with our Indonesian cultural facilitator, picking his brain on the reasoning behind puzzling Indonesian behavior, social taboos to be avoided, and just shoot the shit.  I get home a little before sunset, eat dinner, chat with my family, and experiment with the language.  I get to bed no later then 9pm.  Rinse and repeat.

 My host family is awesome.  And appalling.  Awesome in their sincerity and overbearing willingness to make me comfortable.  Appalling in the way they think I must understand what they’re saying by screaming louder.  But really, I do love them.  My host father is the sub-head of the village I live in.  He is the Kasun or the Big Kahuna.  Sometimes I have a hard time distinguishing one from the other.  My host mother is a tough lady I’ve never seen sleep, eat, or shower.  Yet, she manages to work continuously without a weekend, cook dinner for the family, and worry about my every action.  I am convinced she is a fairy godmother sent to oversee my service.  In addition to the rents, I have a host brother and sister who are equally puzzling in what I see them doing and their finished accomplishments.  They have a 4 year old son who is as cute as dazzling.  Yesterday, I walked in on him tuning his tricycle.  Who knew that tricycle upkeep was a growth industry?  If there were a perfect human comparison to a duck on water or an iceberg, my family would be it. 

In all seriousness, the village itself is GORGEOUS.  Comprised primarily of flower and fruit farmers, I pass by endless flower and fruit markets on my short commute to school.  Surrounding the village are green mountains and volcanoes that I can’t decide are active or extinct.  After all, extinct volcanoes don’t smoke from the top.  I’m pretty sure of that.  If that isn’t Peace Corps-esque enough, let me tell you a bit more about my first day in the village.  I had just arrived to my village and in the awkwardness of running out of vocabulary to use in my first conversations with my host family, I ventured into the village with a few of the local kids.  There I was: walking in boat shoes, khakis, and a collared shirt with village kids in a village surrounded by mountains.  I know.  I know.  I am a saint.

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Want to learn a new language quickly?  Join the Peace Corps.  I am convinced that the Peace Corps is the ultimate cultural experience.  I don’t think I’ve ever acquired a language as quickly as I have with Bahasa Indonesia.  The combination of small language classes for long periods of time and home staying with a local Indonesian family makes for rapid and concrete acquisition of the language.  I may not be fluent yet but you can be damn sure I know how to explain to my host family that I’ve eaten enough.

Indonesians eat a lot and they’re thin.  Americans don’t eat much and we’re fat.  It’s still a paradox I haven’t been able to wrap my overwhelmed brain around.  I actually dread visiting friends’ houses because of the potential to be force fed.  In fact, I haven’t experienced the sensation of hunger in a while.  Imagine that, first world problems in a second world country. While the food is tasty, everything is fried: fried chicken, fried tempe, fried bananas, fried potatoes, fried blobs of food I haven’t learned yet.  Oh, and if there isn’t any rice, it’s not a meal.  I’m Chinese.  I eat rice regularly at home.  Yet, I’m still having a hard time eating massive mounds of white rice 3 times a day.  I nearly cried this morning when I saw a bowl of corn flakes and a glass of milk.  I can only imagine the emotional turmoil my peers experience every morning. 

Beyond language acquisition, we are beginning the early stages of preparing for teaching in local High Schools.  Practicum includes observation, team teaching, and lesson planning.  I am elated at the first taste of independence and ability to contribute to this lovely country I have fallen into.  PST (Pre-Service Training) runs for a total of 10 weeks and I am nearly a third finished.  Upon completion,  I will be assigned to a permanent site for a 2 year service where I will most likely be the only foreigner, working with local school staff to team teach High School students in the area.  Until then, I will be nearly unreachable to those who have probably forgotten me back home (I kidd, I kidd) and holed up in my village focusing on being fluent in the language and becoming the most badass teacher mankind has ever encountered.  Get ready. 

 I eluded in the last entry to being open to this experience coming into my life, making an absolute mess, and rebuilding me from the ground up.  Through all the snarky commentary of this wonderful experience, I want to assure you that I am enjoying Indonesia to the fullest and that I haven’t been this happy for a while (assuming it’s a good day).  Be assured that I am thriving on this side of the world so keep me in your thoughts while I do the like.  Sampai nanti!

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Déjà vu

Its really funny how time just shifts. It’s as if our perception of life is fixed on a certain period and we don’t necessarily notice until we finish transitioning into another. If that’s the case then the transition between my life in Japan to homecoming and now to the days before my tour of service in Indonesia has completely swept me afoot and left me in a ruin of emotional conflict. Alright, maybe not that drastic. But hey, things are happening around me so quickly and with such intensity that its hard not to look back and gape at how much has happened, at how much hasn’t happened, and what has changed.

Actually, a lot has changed. I went from completely oblivious pre- Japan to Ex-pat good-living IN Japan to relationship man to heartbroken to world’s best intern to…? Giving a label to how I feel and how I perceive myself at this very moment is nearly impossible. “Oh! The places you’ll go!” Dr. Seuss told me at graduation. He really wasn’t kidding. 

I recently performed a complete computer cleanse, organizing all the poor, abandoned files and folders that I have neglected through the more turbulent times in my life. Out with the old and in with the new, I suppose, and I happened to find a word document containing an aspiring blog entry I wrote right before flying to Japan. I had intended to make it the first of many great blog entries that would entail my adventures. Sadly and expectedly, I never created that blog and my myriad of experiences retreated into my own memory only for me to see (considering some of my debauchery, it might have been in my own interest). The content, however, was what struck me the most. I’ll save you the excerpt and just summarize that it was so nostalgic, open to the point of naïveté, and…pretty much a carbon copy of the entry you are currently perusing through. 

I always knew I would write something of this sort before I left for Indonesia and to unknowingly stumble into a piece depicting similar thoughts from over two years ago was frightening. Have I not grown at all? Am I falling into a pattern? That’s when I realized that it should be comforting, not disappointing, to see that I am still reacting in the same way. The best parts of me have remained firm yet I have managed to better myself in what matters. I have become more confident, more aggressive in what I want, and, surprisingly, more independent. I am getting closer to my ideal. I guess that’s who I am and I am finally comfortable with it. Here’s more: I am passionate. I relish the good times. I treasure my experiences and value my life. I want to make sure I am milking everything for all its worth. 

In fact, the best part of going to Japan was not knowing what to expect: the thrill of getting off the plane and having a brand-spanking new country at my fingertips, free for me to explore. It was about the conquests, personal realizations, unexpected bonds, and the odd strokes of fate that make us who we are. I confess: I am better on the go. I enjoy being busy. I am at my best when I am working my ass off on something I love. Fear and the unknown provided the kindling for my passion. So here is to Indonesia, a life-changing catalyst in the guise of miserably humid weather, third world plumbing, foreign culture, and whatever else I’ll come to realize a few years later with a grin on my face. I am ready to have you storm into my life, make a complete mess, and reorganize however you see fit. 

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