Saturday, February 4, 2012

Your Mustache is too Big.

I got called Hitler a few times yesterday.

After my local WORDS competition, I met with the winner for some additional coaching before going to the national competition in Jakarta. Before she and I got to work, we were hanging out with her Uncle, a professional and well-known Indonesian painter, and his studio assistant. Relaxing, chatting, drinking coffee, munching on snacks, the assistant asks me the meaning of my name.
     Her uncle seconded the idea, “Yeah, Indonesian names usually have a meaning to them. What about American names?”
     “Well, most English names don't have a meaning to them; they used to, a long time ago. But,” I said, “I looked mine up on the internet.” Looking on the internet now, it turns out that I had forgotten most of it, and told them that my name meant capable military person (Herbert), army commander (Reynold), and rough-mannered (Lynn).*
     “Like Hitler!” the assistant spat out with a hearty laugh.
And Pak agreed, “Yeah, just like Hitler: a rough but smart military leader! Also, you have a mustache!”
     "Oh no, but Hitler's mustache was like this,” the assistant said, putting his fingers under his nose. “Much shorter, haHa!”

     And it was funny. It was actually really funny. With fewer Jewish people around in Indonesia, Hitler is not as taboo as it might be in the U.S. or the west. I was taken aback at first, and it took me a second to remind myself that I'm living in a country that is very different from the U.S. After I laughed a bit along with them, I had to agree with the two of them: a white, mustachioed, rough-mannered, and capable military leader (though understating his “roughness”) is a pretty accurate description of the guy who had the U.S. and most of Europe trembling in fear. Indonesians like to poke fun.
     Sometimes I don't get it. Sometimes I don't find the humor here very funny. The joke contained not even a hint of malice or disrespect. I mean, Glenn Beck wasn't in the room insinuating that I was a genocidal, maniacal narcissist. This time, I got a good laugh out of a silly association.

Herbert = Illustrious/Bright/Famous Warrior/Army
Reynold = Well-counseled or well-advised ruler
Lynn = Lake or waterfall, also of ruddy complexion

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Notions of cleanliness

I am constantly impressed by the devotion of average people in the country of Indonesia. Yesterday, after a long day of class, a sat next to a teacher who is only a few years older than me. He seemed a little tired like myself.

"Ngantuk? (Tired?)" I asked.

"Ya," he said, but there was more to it than that. In SMA Muhammadiyah, the dry erase markers run out of fluid on a pretty regular basis, so they must be refilled constantly. Throughout the day, one can see students outside the teacher's room, popping the ends off the markers and pouring dry-erase fluid onto the exposed sponge-thing in the middle. On occasion, students overfill the markers, leading to an explosion of ink when first uncapped (this has happened to me twice now). I tend to erase my mistakes with my hands, so my fingers are usually a funny gray color by the end of the day anyway (though on occasion I end up with big black streaks on my face, prompting my students to giggle more than usual). In short, these ink explosions are a minor inconvenience for me.

My fellow teacher however, explained to me that he was feeling a bit frustrated. Muslims, before entering a mosque or place of prayer, must wash their hands, feet, and face so that they may be clean in the presence of Allah. He kept looking at his hands, which were temporarily stained a dark dry-erase gray.

"I have to wash my hands a few times when I get home," he explained. "One of the students overfilled a marker, and it spilled all over my hands and I couldn't wash it off, so when I went to pray after class, I didn't feel clean. It wasn't satisfying, my praying. I felt dirty."

Other than a paltry "Oh..." I didn't really know what to say. I was raised Catholic, but I never felt much in the way of conviction or devotion stemming from the religion. I have always respected people who could find solace in their God, maybe because that consolation has always escaped me. Nowadays, I offer the term "atheist" as a shorthand to denote my beliefs, though I have not told this to anyone in the town of Genteng. When people inquire about my religion I say, "Saya Katolik KTP," which means, "It says Catholic on my i.d. card." So there I sat, a clandestine non-believer utterly astounded at how such a small annoyance could wreck this person's emotional and spiritual state of mind. The people around me pray pretty consistently, and I didn't realize until then how vital those small moments of quiet can be.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Bro-ing Out Part I: Baluran

Last night was my second Indonesian Bro Out. For my those readers who are unfamiliar with the therm, a Bro Out is when a bunch of guys get together and chill. Although my kitchen supplies are largely inadequate for more than 2 or 3 guests, and although I didn't understand most of what was said, the evening was still a success. However, you all, my readers, have missed my first Bro Out due to my hiatus. Let's start with that.

Baluran: My First Indonesian Bro Out

There are mangrove trees all over Baluran.
Two weekends ago, about 10 teachers from my school and I went to Baluran beach for an overnight stay. This was during midsemester testing at my school, so I'm betting that the teachers needed it more than I did. We rented a little beachside cabin and brought a cooler of fish and a heaps of rice, Indomie, water, and coffee. We got there around nightfall and set up to grill some fish: we gathered fire wood, got out the requisite equipment, unpacked the rice and sambel, and did plenty of sitting around. I was discouraged from exploring because there were plenty of monkeys around, but no telling if they were in the tree right above you. (Note to the reader: in most places, monkeys are not cute little creatures that scamper around, sit on your shoulder, and nibble on whatever snacks you give them. They quickly become aggressive when they feel threatened, and they often carry rabies.) I was still adjusting to Indonesia at this point and was prone to stomach aches. Predictably, I started feeling ill on the way to Baluran.

Cooking fish over an open flame: noms.
The fish was delicious, and there was plenty of it, but I wasn't up to the task of gorging myself on the delicious meal. Instead, I told everyone that I was feeling ill, skipped after-dinner coffee, and tried to get some sleep. Indonesia, however, is still fertile ground for home remedies, and so I learned (read experienced) a few before I was left to fall asleep. 

First, one of the teachers sprayed my stomach with some spray-on liquid that smelled like Vix or Icy-Hot and rubbed it in. Soon after, my counterpart said that I probably had air in my stomach, which needed to be released. The method for releasing air involves taking a coin and scraping it back and forth in small patches up and down one's back. Somehow, this is supposed to induce vomiting. My counterpart, Pak Gugi, said his wife uses this treatment on him all the time. He also told me that when he used this home remedy on the ETA from two years ago, he vomited and felt better immediately afterwards. The coin-scraping was incredibly discomfiting, and I felt like I was going to hurl, but nothing came of it.In contrast, the last home remedy that the teachers decided to try was actually quite pleasant: a massage.  Pak Mu'at, who is also the coach of my tapak suci class, worked on my back, legs, neck, and arms for about half an hour before it became apparent that I was falling asleep. 

On touch in Indonesia

Monkeys: also very touchy
Indonesians are very touchy people; they touch eachother quite often, even as adults. Personal space isn't really a concept that exists here. Therefore, it's not uncommon for people to walk arm in arm around the school, give unsolicited massages, sit very close together, lean against eachother/use eachother as headrests when they're tired, fall all over eachother in fits of laughter, get someone's attention by putting a hand on the person's knee, etc. Of course, this does not apply to people of different genders. In Indonesia, like many muslim countries, touch between men and women is discouraged in public. I mean, if you're in public and you hand something to someone or you brush against them in a crowd, nobody gives it a second thought (or even a first thought for that matter), but on occasion, I meet females who will not shake hands with me because I am male. It's also common to see females riding motorbikes with both legs over the same side (i.e. side-saddle). Sometimes this is because they're wearing a skirt, but oftentimes they're trying to avoid "getting too close" with a male who is not in their family. Couples almost never touch in public, especially if they're not married.

I for the most part am not a touchy person. It took me a while to get used to having hands on my knees and arms around my shoulders, and at first I was a little off put by acquaintances man-handling me like I was their best friend. I've gotten used to it, and in the spirit of adopting cultural norms, I'm trying to touch my male friends more often. It's starting to feel more natural now, but I'm still unpracticed when it comes to casual touching. By the time I get back to America, you're probably going to have to forgive me for invading your personal space. My bad in advance.

Anyway, back to the Bro Out 

When morning came my stomach was still a bit off-kilter, but I was at the beach damn it, and I wanted to join in the exploring. A few teachers revived the fire from the previous evening and set some water to boil for coffee. They prepared me a cup so I drank it. It would have been rude to refuse it since they made it especially for me, but it immediately upset my stomach again. Great.

When we set off for a walk, the sun was just rising, and Baluran was looking beautiful. The water was deep blue, there were sea shells strewn all over the beach, and the sun barely had its head above the waves. I collected all the sea shells I could stuff in my pockets as we walked along, trying to distract myself from my stomach while simultaneously picking up souvenirs. The tide was starting to go out, so there were large swaths of water only a few inches deep where we found sea slugs, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, and starfish I had forgotten my wordbook, so I didn't have the opportunity to write down the names of all these sea critters. Finally, we stopped for a breakfast of rice and Indomie. Indomie is a brand of ramen noodles that can be found in almost any store. Yes, I realize that noodles and rice are both grains, but here in Indonesia, they're very different.  Rice is this nation's staple food. A meal without rice is not a meal at all; when an Indonesian asks, "Have you eaten yet?" what they really mean is, "Have you eaten rice yet?"

This little lungfish crawled out of the water to watch me poop.
As we settled on a site and began cooking, my abdomen started sending me some warning signs. I wandered a ways and found this beautiful little pool of water behind a sand dune and surrounded by mangrove trees. The water was crystal blue and teeming with little fishes that swam around the bamboo shoots poking their stalks out from the water. The mangroves were especially magnificent, the way their trunks entwined, hunching and twisting in every direction. The roots spread out everywhere like giant sandworms that grew up out of the sand before plunging back under. One root in particular was flat and broad and came about a foot out of the sand before leveling off. I climbed up on it, dropped my swim trunks, and squatted. I felt like an awkward bird perched on a limb, but at least my view of the pool of water was pretty.

The right hand rule
Breakfast at Baluran
In Indonesia, as with many muslim countries, people are discouraged from using their left hands: passing anything to another person, offering your left hand for a handshake, and touching food with your left hand among others is considered incredibly rude. Since the left hand is considered dirty as is, that hand is used for picking things up off the ground, picking up shoes, cleaning yourself after using the restroom, and the like. The right hand is used for things like shaking hands, handling food, and eating. This is especially important because many people don't use utensils (unless they're eating soup or something like that). Personally, I enjoy using my hand for eating: I feel closer to my food, there's fewer dishes afterwards, and frankly it's more fun. Unfortunately, the left-dirty-right-clean logic behind all this breaks down when you consider that you have to use both hands for many tasks, and that both hands handle money and touch doorknobs. Anyway, there is rarely toilet paper in Indonesian bathrooms; you're expected to use your left hand. Sitting on my little mangrove root, I was just happy that my stomach was feeling better after a squat by my little oasis. Fortunately, I was used to not having toilet paper by the time I got to Baluran. Also fortunately, we ate our Indomie with chopsticks.

Herbert is sleepy.
After sating our appetites and sitting around drinking more coffee and smoking cigarettes, we meandered back to our cabin to wash up, pack up, and head back to Genteng. On the way back to the cabin, we did a little swimming, happened across a few groups of monkeys, and collected a few more shells. When we got back to the cabin, everyone napped as they waited for their turn to shower. Everyone napped in the car on the way back too. I surely needed it. It wasn't a strenuous weekend, but the Indonesian sun is brutal, especially if you're not 100% to begin with.

In my next post, you'll hear about Bro-ing Out Part II: Dinner at Herb's. Or maybe you'll hear about Idul Adhal Festivities, namely the sacrifice of a cow or two at my school.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Got an Office, Made a Friend

I'm back.

First off, the obligatory apology for not posting in a while. Sorry. I've been trying for the last week or so to write a catching-you-up post, but there's just too much to say, so I'm going to jump right in to things.

Note: I meant to publish the following post about 1 week ago after a few edits here and there, but other obligations got in the way.

The past two weeks has been midsemester testing at my school. For me, this means showing up to school and spending alot of time chatting with the security guards, drinking coffee, and smoking cigarettes while all the other teachers administer and supervise the tests. My computer is having difficulty connecting to the internet at school, so there really hasn't been much to do. At least I can show up whenever I feel like it as opposed arriving at 6:30 AM.

Oh, I guess I haven't mentioned that yet; since the sun rises and morning prayer is around 4:30 AM, school starts every day at around 6:30. This is excruciatingly early for me because I've been having a hard time making myself go to bed at 9:00PM every night. It won't happen tonight either because I really want to do this blog entry tonight. So aside from practicing my Indonesian, I haven't been doing anything as far as work is concerned.

One notable life event did happen last week at school though. I felt my first earthquake! The epicenter was near Bali, and luckily it was pretty weak, but we still felt it here. At first, I thought it was a large truck passing by the school until a few people (mainly students) started panicking. I later learned that a few other people thought the same as me at first. It kindof felt like the earth was vibrating slowly, which it essentially was, and that's what it felt like. The whole thing lasted long enough for about two classes to gather in the school's courtyard. We felt an aftershock later in the afternoon, which lasted maybe 5 seconds. Thanks to various adventures and acquainting so far, I now have friends in Bali, so I sent a few texts to see how everyone was doing. No injuries, no deaths, and almost no damage. Tidak apa-apa. No problem.

However, I have accomplished two happy-makers so far this week: I fixed up one of my spare rooms into an office and made a friend here in Genteng.


A little background first: Indonesian homes usually have a front foyer or sitting area for receiving guests. It's usually outfitted with a couch and/or some chairs surrounding a snack-laden table. I have one of these areas because the furniture was there when I moved in. The only other table in my house is the kitchen table, which is currently unusable. If you caught my facebook posts from a few weeks back, you'll know that I've been waging war against rats, mice, and cockroaches for a while (at some point, I'll be writing an entry detailing the various fauna in and around my home: there's plenty). If you didn't catch those posts, my kitchen is like a little poop-scattered war zone. The table there is the only surface in my home unreachable by pests, so its surface area is currently occupied by potatoes, oats, sugar, and a few other treats in chew-through-able containers. Therefore, I've been largely hanging out in my sitting area and scrambling to pick up my mess when my surprise guests arrive (surprise in this country does not entail few and far between, quite the contrary actually). One day while sweeping out the empty room across from my bedroom, I decided that I should make myself an office.

Last week, I mentioned my plans to the school's security guard, Mr. Mulyanto, and he offered to take me to his friend's furniture store after school. I had decided that I wanted a nice carpet and a short table so I could sit on the floor, which will make for easy transitions into meditating, slouching, and sometimes napping. Well, his friend's store didn't have any short tables like I wanted, and it didn't seem to me that I had much of a say in where I was buying, so I had to draw up what I wanted. A few days later, my table showed up, and (surprise!) it wasn't what I had asked for nor was it the quality I had been expecting. Let's put it this way: I don't build furniture, but I could build a better looking table than this. Luckily, Mr. Mul knew I wasn't getting my money's worth and told his friend to build another one.  I'm still waiting on my new table so for now, I'm using the sub-par table. Unfortunately, I didn't find out until the night the sub-par table arrived that (surprise!) there were wood bugs living in one of the slats. I hope they're unable to make a home in my carpet. 

All said though, I'm happy to have a space that is fully and completely mine. I have decided to label everything in my house in Indonesian at some point. I'm trying to decide on what to put on the door.

At least I have gold.

Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other's gold. I've never really been a big fan of this song because it devalues old friends. (When was the last time you saw a commercial advertising the silver market?) However, I have no old friends here in Indonesia. Today though, I made a new friend.

A few days back during an afternoon stroll, I stopped for a can of Pocari Sweat and took a seat at the adjacent warung to gulp it down. Ok, backing up a second: Pocari Sweat is Indonesia's electrolyte drink (think flavorless Gatorade), and a warung is a streetside food stall. Maybe I should start making vocabulary lists for my posts. I'm a teacher now, so I'm getting used to doing so in class. Anyway, the guy who was manning the warung, his name was Arif and he was 19 years old. We chatted about the requisite "Where are you from?" "Why are you here?" "How old are you?"stuff before I made my exit. 

A few days after that, I was passing by a different warung while looking for something to eat, and he flagged me down. Since I was hungry, I obliged his request to join him. It turned out that his family owned this place as well and it turned out that his English was much better than the 4 or 5 words he sputtered out during our previous encounter. Between his English and my Indonesian, we actually held a conversation. He asked me what I thought about Indonesian education and about America, and I asked him what people our age do around here on weekend nights. 

In answer to his question, as far as the education system here is concerned, the primary teaching method revolves around rote memorization, even in language classes where there is very little speaking practice.  Another troubling aspect is that students largely learn a phrase at a time, and are expected to memorize those phrases without really understanding the mechanics of the language. Of course, this rote memorization is then tested by nationally-distributed multiple choice tests at the end of the year. I told him that instead of learning just facts, students should be learning how to think about facts and learning how to learn. They also need to rethink whether national tests should determine who graduates and who doesn't. I'm not sure he understood me because of the language barrier though. 

In answer to my question, he told me that most people our age go to cafes and berpacar (ber-pa-char). As far as my experience goes, berpacar might mean flirt, and it might mean go on a date, but my dictionary makes me think it might also mean hook up. 
"Cafes? There are cafes here? Ada cafe sini?" Every once in a while, I enjoy a several hour coffee filled cafe lounging. I hadn't seen any yet and was surprised by his answer. 
"Ya, ada banyak (There's alot)."
"Do you sometimes go to the cafes? Kamu kadang-kadang ke cafe?"
"Belum, tidak minum alcohol. (No, not yet. I don't drink.)"
At this point he ran off to help a customer that had shown up, and I was left to wonder what 'cafe' meant in Indonesia. I thought cafe was a pretty universal word for coffeehouse. But, here they serve alcohol at cafes? I guess in europe the sell wine in beer at cafes often enough, but it seemed odd that Indonesian cafes serve alcohol often enough to deter (someone who I'm assuming is) your average Muslim? When Arif returned, he explained a little more, and I got the impression that your average cafe in Genteng was a mix between a beer-serving pub with more traditional coffeehouse fare on the side.

When all was said and done and I decided it was time to head home, he wouldn't allow me to pay for my meal since I agreed to help him practice his English every once in a while. This country is so friendly. Maybe in a few months, I'll have a few more people I can call friends and not just friendly.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Out of Office

So, I'm at this swanky hotel in Bandung, which is about two hours away from Jakarta. It's not very Indonesian (except for the decor), so there's not much cultural stuff worth writing about. I'm learning alot about Indonesia, teaching English, the Indonesian language, and a few other things. Also, I left my charging cable at my house in Genteng, so I'm kindof writing on borrowed time here. Actually, I'm writing using a borrowed power cable. So If you start missing me, don't worry. I'll be back soon.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Wait... what grade is this?

Your average American would describe the Indonesian classroom as unruly. I began my first real day at school being shuttled from class to class, making 3 minute introductions about myself, drawing the United States & Kentucky on the whiteboard, and answering the questions of the few students outgoing enough to ask. It turns out that Indonesian students operate with a group mentality, and very few of them are willing to call attention to theirselves by raising a hand. The question I got asked most was about my hobbies, which include writing and rattling off the names of bands that few, if any, people in this country have ever heard of. You know: Cut Copy, Datarock Datarock, Of Montreal, etc. At least everyone here knows the Beatles. One kid tried to call me out by asking, "Do you like to sing? Will you sing for us?" And then giggling profusely. So I laid the smackdown on him and sang a few lines of Hey Jude. Stunned silence, good or bad I'm not sure. At least they seemed to approve when I told them I wanted to learn to surf while I was here.

The next most asked question pertained to my marital status. It's actually pretty common for strangers to ask if you're married (at least to white people). Of course, replying "single" was met with a round of giggles (especially from the girls in class). In fact, it seems that giggling was the appropriate response for almost any question I answered, even when the answer was pretty tame. At least a few more people in the world know that cornbread exists. Now if only I knew where to find a skillet and some cornmeal...

I think the hardest part of my introductions was keeping my English together. Half of any conversation I got involved in consisted of one conversant talking and asking questions in sometimes-more-sometimes-less broken English. By the end of the rounds, what was coming out of my mouth was a mix of bad English and a few Indonesian words. I'm going to have to keep an ear on that if I hope to teach these kids anything worthwhile.

To give you an idea of the average classroom at my school: Imagine a sparsely decorated room with a few pictures of important imams (Muslim religious leaders) or the current president. Fill that room with around 30 kids sitting at at two person table-desks, then group the boys together and the girls together to the point that you can see a physical gender division, usually with the boys in the back. This is the still shot of the Indonesian classroom. Animate this picture and you will see lots of giggling and whispering in the ears of deskmates (especially among the girls). The boys would make any American teacher cringe; during class one will see playful shoving, light smacking, and other forms of horseplay. On occasion, one boy will jump out of his seat and rush to an empty chair by a fellow (fellow being specifically male) classmate, and every once in a while, some of the more unruly boys will straight up yell something at the teacher. I don't like using the word something in my writing, but since I don't understand Indonesian, something will have to suffice. Not all students fit these descriptions though. At least a third of students sit quietly in their seats, listening and sometimes even taking notes (but they'll still whisper a quick sentence or two to their neighbor, albeit more covertly than some). This isn't to say that these kids are bad. Its just that they didn't grow up in an educational system organized around complete obedience to a teacher. For me, it just means that instead of expecting the children to behave and do immediately as they're told, I'll have to work with them. I'll have to play their games and teach them to play mine. Sometimes I'll have to wait for them to be quiet, and other times I'll have to take a more active role. I'm thinking the "clap once if you can hear me!" *clap* route might work well.

Each English Teaching Assistant is paired with a full-time teacher at the school, called our counterpart; I finally got to meet mine today. He's a slight man in his early thirties who maintains pretty tight control over his classroom (or as tight as an Indonesian classroom can get). His name is Pak Googy. (I'm not sure I mentioned this in any of my previous posts, but Pak means Mr. while Bu means Mrs.) I hadn't met him before today because he has been ill and hence absent from school since I got here. I observed him in class today and was half amused half shocked at the way he introduced himself to the class. He said, "My name is Pak Googy, and please be sure to pronounce the 'y' at the end of my name." All the kids giggled. If you don't get it, Pak Googy has a very gaunt face and almond shaped eyes. Remember that I'm in Asia and many people in my area pronounce g's and k's almost identically. Think WWII. Anyway, his English is pretty excellent and he seems like a pretty cheerful fellow. Plus, he approved of the fact that I tend to roll my own cigarettes. I think we're going to get along swimmingly.

After school was all said and done, I opted to ride around with the school's driver and the Japanese teacher, Pak Bagus, to deliver some Ramadan care packages to a few teachers' houses. Pak Bagus is about the same age as Pak Googy and is very proficient in English. Among other things, we talked about dating in Indonesia. It seems that once people reach my age and graduate from university, they start dating seriously, as in marriage track. So it seems that I won't be dating during my grant period. He also asked about premarital relations, and I had to tell him that American Pie is not representative of America at large. As far as the intimate side of dating is concerned, I told him it depends on where you live, what you believe, how you were raised, and what you're looking for. "Yeah, pretty much the same here in Indonesia," he said, "except the women are more conservative."

I don't know when I'll be writing to you all next. I'm off to Surabaya tomorrow then taking a plane to Jakarta on Friday morning. I can't imagine that an 8 hour car ride will be terribly eventful. I'll keep you all in the loop if anything cool happens though.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Not the last best day yet.

Happy Indonesian Independence Day!

I just finished sitting on the front porch chatting in broken Indonesian with some of the neighborhood kids. If anyone ever tells you that children are the best people to practice a new language with, they are telling the truth. With a few rounds of "What's this?" ("Apa ini?") I managed to put together a few sentences, and if nothing else there were lots of giggles from everyone involved. I feel like I'm setting a bad example for them though. At one point they called me Mister Merokok (Mister Smoker) because they walked up on me while sitting outside for an after dinner cigarette. I should start smoking inside. It's my house after all.

Today started out with a great improvement on my quality of life: I figured out the hot water heater. However, it seems to have only two settings: tepid and scalding. So I'm now mixing hot and cool water in a ladle for my baths, but at least the water's bearable.

At 7:30 AM, Pak Safuan picked me up for the Indonesian Independence Day flag ceremony. Yesterday, he asked if I had any formal clothes, and I told him that I had the collared shirt I wore to school on Monday.
"No, no, this is not formal. What about trousers?"
"Pants? No, all my nice pants and shirts are with AMINEF in Jakarta."
"And tie?"
"In Jakarta."
"What about a jacket?"
"A blazer? It's too hot for a jacket."
"No. This is a formal formal occasion. You will borrow clothes from Pak Wasid"

August 17th is more or less Indonesia's 4th of July, but the occasion was a bit more solemn than what I saw over the summer. For starters, Muslims are not big drinkers with that whole alcohol-being-forbidden thing. But, they usually do the too-much-food-please-tell-me-there's-no-more thing; however, this month is the fasting month of Ramadan, wherein Muslims must go without food, drink, (and I didn't know this one) or cigarettes between sunrise and sunset. As far as I know, the flag ceremony was the only festivity that happened today. Upon arrival, I saw close to 200 children dressed in their school uniforms standing around the perimeter of a soccer field. It was a colorful affair to say the least. Pak Safuan and Pak Nuwarchid (sp?), the headmaster, ushered me and my borrowed clothes towards a tent where a group of well dressed men were seated, and had me sit with them in the 2nd row. I quickly realized that all these men were the headmasters and top administrators of their schools, except for the 1st row of men comprised of military and government officials.

Now, I'm fully aware that the Fulbright is a prestigious grant, but I'm not sure it's so prestigious as to merit a seat of honor at the flag ceremony. The other exception to the school/military/government men was another white guy about my age sitting in the row behind me. He didn't believe that there was another American here in Genteng, and I wouldn't have believed it either if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. His name is Jay, and he's here studying volcanology and teaching English through the Peace Corps as part of his Master's degree. We exchanged numbers so we can meet up once I get back from my 3-week orientation in Bandung. It will be good to have another American around to hang out with, especially since he knows the volcanoes pretty intimately: they make for great day hikes.

"So we're sitting up here pretty much because we're white, yeah?" I remarked.
"Pretty much," he agreed, "part of the job is getting called a tourist at the market even though I'm wearing my teacher's uniform. I hate it."
Looking around, it was obvious the role that the color of my skin was playing in where we were seated and the respect that others were showing for the two of us.
"Yeah, winning the genetic lottery makes for some pretty awkward situations. Awkward if you recognize it for what it is, I guess."

Sitting up front for the ceremony was pretty awesome considering the proceedings. There was plenty of saluting and flag waving, but the most fun came from watching the mock Battle of Surabaya. It started with a bunch of school aged children in costume pantomiming the role of farmers, doctors, families, etc. Then, a jeep of military men bearing the dutch flag came and "massacred" the townsfolk. Remember when you played bad guys and good guys in kindergarten and shouted "BANG! BANG!" at the other kids? Yeah. It was like that, except the soldiers had guns (without ammo) and the townsfolk actually played along with kung-fu-movie death sequences. Lots of jumps interrupted with a BANG to the face. Let's just say I wasn't the only one chuckling. Then, a few guys dressed as guerillas came armed with bamboo poles overtook the dutch imperialists! One of them managed to pin a soldier to the front of his jeep with a bamboo pole, twisting it while the soldier spazzed out like he was getting gored. I got a picture of it.

If you don't know what the Dutch flag looks like, it's made of three horizontal bars: red on top, white in the middle, blue on the bottom. The Indonesian flag is two horizontal bars: red on top, white on the bottom. After all was said and done (actually, the guys on the jeep were still having at it), one of the guerillas runs over to the Dutch flag and rips the bottom blue bar off, making it into an Indonesian flag, and after all the buildup, it was righteous. The rest of the ceremony was military marching, a speech, some saluting, a flag raising, more saluting, more marching, a final speech, then pictures. Somehow, I was ushered into a bunch of group photos, even as I was about to get into the school's car to head home. I'm the kind of guy who sometimes likes to keep his mouth shut and just watch what's happening. All this attention is getting to be exhausting.

When I got home I decided to make lunch, and as I was cutting apples my neighbor from across the street knocks on my door and asks me if I want to buy some tofu. I was thinking she meant go to the market with me and pick up some tofu. No. I walk outside and there's a woman with a cart selling tofu door to door. Yes, I want to buy some tofu! I only picked up a little since I'm here for only a few days, and it was obscenely cheap. What I bought came to 1,000 Rupiah (about 12¢). The same amount in the states would have run around 3 or 4 dollars. Honestly, there hasn't been much variety in my diet since arriving because I don't have the linguistic skills to go to the market, so some tofu is a welcome change of pace. I danced in my kitchen. It's a good thing I brought multivitamins.

This afternoon and evening consisted of a very pleasant bike ride with Pak Safuan (he's becoming such a good friend to me). We biked around town and into the countryside a bit. It's Spain all over again. Everywhere I go, I'm reminded of what a beautiful country I'm in. The roads are lined with palm trees and rice paddies, the houses are quaint and brightly colored, and mountaintops poke their peaks out from the clouds in the distance. Pictures will be coming as soon as I figure out how to make a slide show to post on this blog. While we were out riding, we stopped at the house of a friend of Safuan's. Their son was visiting from Bali, and it turns out that he's a professional surfer. Bali is a bit further away than I want to go for lessons, but he said he might know some people from around here that can make a few trips down to the beach with me. I gave him my facebook. It's all about networking.

Tomorrow, I'm observing English classes. Get ready for the wacky (or more likely not-so-wacky) hijinks of the Indonesian classroom.