Okay, it’s been a while since we posted any photos. Between talking about our personal experiences, to classes, to food forays, here’s another photo blog.
Okay, it’s been a while since we posted any photos. Between talking about our personal experiences, to classes, to food forays, here’s another photo blog.
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I would say Colin’s Bill Simmons-esque post on our Indonesian meals is about 99% accurate. I might bump The Loving Hut up to B+/A- status. It’s not quite A range, but it is on the borderline. I also must admit that my taste buds have failed me a couple times. Normally Alex bails me out, he’s pretty conditioned to eating spicy food and general enjoys eating Sambal straight (seriously).
I mentioned in an earlier post that driving in Jogja can be a nerve-wracking experience, but I want to add that crossing any big street is even more terrifying. We Americans are used to looking left and then right as we cross the street, but it the complete opposite here in Jogja. Also there are no stoplights, so one’s ability to cross a street in Jogja really comes down to his or her ability to jaywalk. And in Jogja, jaywalking requires that you skillfully maneuver between speeding motorbikes and cars that wait until the last minute to stop. You really just have to put yourself out there and authoritatively stare down oncoming traffic. It is a very intimidating endeavor- Kind of like trying to cross Broadway in Times Square minus the traffic lights and crosswalks and plus more cars (if that is possible).
I want to talk about the research that I am doing this month, but bare with me for another paragraph about adjusting to life in Indonesia. Indonesians often start their day around 4 am with the call to prayer. We do not have class until 8:30am, so I still would like to ideally sleep in till around 7:30-8ish everyday. I’m a heavy sleeper so I have learned to sleep through the call to prayer, but our Wisma is located right next to a school and every morning around 7am I am woken up by the noises of furniture moving and children yelling. I know I sound a little silly, but who doesn’t like to sleep an extra hour? Anyways, Saturday during the day we went back to Jalan Malioboro to check out some Batik, and that night we went karaoking with our Bahasa teacher Ade. I was quite tired and really looking forward to sleeping in a little later on Sunday (perhaps 9am???). But this dream of mine was just not to be. There was a motorbike race on Sanata Dharma’s campus (which is adjacent to our Wisma) at 7am on Sunday, accompanied by a three-hour concert that lasted from 7am-10am. Who has a concert at 7am on a Sunday? I can sleep through the call to prayer, but I definitely cannot sleep through a three-hour concert. What would happen if someone tried to perform at Haverford at 7am on a Sunday? I shudder at the thought.
Ok, so a little bit about my summer research. For this month, while we are studying research methodologies with Leslie, we are also doing a mini-research project to practice what we are learning in the classroom. My partner, Laksmi Amalia, and I are studying the emergence of hard line Islamic groups since the fall of Suharto, and their impact on the Indonesian Government’s ability to promote a pluralistic society. Here is an excerpt from our project proposal:
“Since the collapse of the New Order government and removal of Suharto from office in 1998, Indonesian government and society have undergone numerous political and cultural changes. Politicians have attempted to introduce a variety of reforms during this time period including the development of a democracy and the failed implementation of a new educational system. The reformasi period of Indonesian politics has led to the development of government support for the right to freedom of speech. Indonesian society since the fall of Suharto has experienced free flowing political debate in the news media and increased artistic and cultural expression.
In recent years, Indonesia has also experienced the emergence of a powerful Islamic political and societal presence. The organization Front Pembela Islam (FPI) serves as one example of the many radical and violent religious organizations present in Indonesia. FPI and other hard line Islamic organizations have committed many acts of violence during the reformasi period of Indonesian democracy including attacks on members of the National Alliance for the Freedom of Faith and Religion, Shia Muslims, Catholics, Lady Gaga and other LGBT activists. These organizations have used violence to intimidate and silence people who have attempted speak freely and openly about a variety of sensitive issues in Indonesian politics. While the Indonesian government supports a pluralistic society and freedom of speech, it appears that some religious organizations are undermining these democratic efforts.
This research project endeavors to investigate the effectiveness of Indonesian democracy in promoting a pluralist society and to determine the actual strength of freedom of speech in current Indonesian society. Specifically, this research project will focus on the impact of radical Islam on the individual in Indonesia and whether or not that individual feels safe expressing his or her opinion in society. What impact have hard line Islamic organization had on the Indonesian individual’s capacity to express his or her beliefs? Do artists, members of the press and media, LGBT rights advocates and other vocal activists in Indonesian society feel intimidated by radical Islamic organizations? What is the impact of hard line Islamic organizations on the effectiveness of Indonesian democracy? Does Indonesian democracy promote a pluralist society?”
Laksmi and I are still trying to narrow our scope of research. We are hoping to interview people who have been the targets of religious violence, and learn more about how the presence of hard line organizations has made vocal members of society feel. We want to focus on gathering a variety of stories and perspectives on the issue of pluralism in Indonesian society. In addition to interviewing a variety of activists who have born the brunt of religious violence, we also want to speak with members of more moderate Islamic organizations and potentially even members of hard line organizations (although that might not be possible). Hopefully by the end of class today, Laksmi and I will have a solid list of people we can interview.
The next few weeks are going to be pretty interesting and intense. We are all starting to settle into a routine, and my life here in Jogja is getting pretty comfortable. I’m not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, now that I am comfortable it makes it easier for me to focus on the work that I want to do for the next few weeks. On the other hand, it means that I am not pushing myself to explore more of Jogja. I balance most of my days around 5 hours of class, readings, delicious meals and evening workouts. I am going to keep fighting the natural inertia that accompanies the development of daily routines. Hopefully I can use my research to take me to places that I haven’t been to yet. I would like to go to a Mosque and I still have yet to explore the Jogja Art Festival.
That is all for now. We have class soon. Sampai Jumpa!
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Hey all! Colin’s been hard a work devising this delicious ranking of some of our favorite food haunts in and around Jogja, but somehow he hasn’t gotten around to making a blog account, so I have to post this for him.
Lubelczyk’s Food Rankings:
While my compatriot Mr. Jacobs has been obsessing over and trivializing every aspect of our Saturday afternoon beachside chat, I have decided to dedicate my blogging energy to an endeavor that won’t necessarily bore our 10(+/-) readers to death: ranking our favorite Indonesian restaurants. Apart of time spent inside the friendly confines of USD, we spend the most time patrolling the streets of Jogja either staking out new places to eat or visiting old favorites. As food has consumed our minds for an embarrassing amount of time thus far during our stay, it surely deserves its due time in print here on the blog. To do this in the most reader-friendly way possible, I have decided to devise a system of “Power Rankings” to determine which restaurant can claim city-wide bragging rights.
Let me offer a few points of clarification before embarking on the tough task of picking the group’s favorite restaurants. Because it would be impossible to rank every restaurant and food stand (warung in Indonesian) we’ve indulged in over the past three weeks, I’ve decided to restrict my rating system to only the places that have received us on multiple occasions. Though I will provide information on how expensive each restaurant is, this rating will not weigh in heavily when determining the overall rank because no matter how fancy or exotic a restaurant may seem, we have yet to pay over the equivalent of $5 for a meal (which might be my favorite part about the trip thus far). A final note: all of these restaurants are rated on Indonesian standards i.e. an Indonesian place earning a “C” is still akin “A” restaurant back home in the states…yes the food is that good.
Food and Beverage Quality: Graded on the traditional A-F scale
Price: $$$- expensive (by Indonesian standards), $$- moderate, $- cheap
1. MILAS Food and Beverage Quality: A+
I find it hard to believe there will be much griping from my fellow travelling companions about Milas’s coronation atop the rankings, as even our most picky eater (cough cough Elizabeth), found something that she thoroughly enjoyed. Though I’m not usually one to be swayed by ambiance because in my book, food always comes first, I must say the dimly lit, jungle-esque atmosphere provided by Milas actually helped set it apart from our favorite places in Jogya. It’s vegetarian cuisine of flavorful curries, spicy stir-fries, and appetizers doused in city-renowned peanut sauce also helps Milas emerge as the clear winner. The only complaint I’ve heard during our two trips was that too many delicious-looking options crowd the menu, causing the decision-making process to be somewhat excruciating.
2. Warung Gado-Gado Food and Beverage Quality: A
After taking into account the cab ride, somewhat slow service, and burning desire to stay in their alluring oasis for hours after your food has been consumed, a trip to Milas is surely a night long affair. The opposite can be said for the place boasting second place in this week’s rankings. Warung Gado-gado dispels all the myths that Milas propagates by proving that good food doesn’t need to be prepared in a picturesque atmosphere and a menu doesn’t need to consist of more than two items. Every time I eat at this food stall for lunch (I’ll spare you of the ever-rising tally), I know both exactly what I’m going to eat and that I won’t spend more than 30 minutes or 10,000 rupiah ($1) doing it. While the “Lotek” I order each and every time is merely an assortment of diced vegetables mixed with homemade peanut sauce, I have not once been disappointed by it. It’s quick, simple, and top of the line. As Boston sports teams have proved throughout my lifetime (hence the city being dubbed “Titletown”), here’s something to said for being consistently above average, and Warung Gado-gado’s lofty position amongst its competitors is another example of this adage.
3. Phuket Food and Beverage Quality: A-
If eating at a Thai restaurant while amidst hundreds of traditional Indonesian places is sacrilege, we are repeat sinners. If I remember correctly, there was one stretch during which we turned up at Phuket’s doors on three consecutive days. Though this place doesn’t possess the “wow” factor of Milas or the proximity and quickness of Warung Gado-Gado, apart from an unfortunate ordering misstep that ended in a repulsive avocado beverage, I have yet to be disappointed by a meal at Phuket even though I’ve ordered different things each time I’ve visited. Being located within walking distance of our living quarters also scores it points. Though it is improbable (I hope) that we ever break our own record of three days in a row, I wouldn’t be surprised if we were able to stroll in to Phuket and demand “the regular” by the end of our time in Jogya.
4. Warung Soto Food and Beverage Quality: A-
As our #4 favorite place is located right next door to Warung Gado-Gado, we are always confronted with the difficult decision of which food stall to invade after class for lunch. Like its competitor next door, Warung Soto specializes in giving customers the choice between two savory options, but instead of Lotek and Gado-gado, this food stall specializes in chicken soto and chicken curry. The heaping plates of fried tempeh and homemade sambal littering the tables cause some to give Warung soto the leg-up on its next door rival. While none of us have yet managed to come close to Alex’s record of 7 (yes you read that correctly) pieces of tempeh in one meal, we still have plenty of time and given the quality of the tempeh, the task seems surmountable. While the food is surely top of the line taste-wise, one should avoid looking too far back into the kitchen, as its state of cleanliness bears a striking resemblance to my own beloved kitchen in the HC apartments. My mother will be the first to tell you that this is by no means a compliment, but as long as the Indonesian Board of Health remains at bay and none of us comes down with a mysterious food-borne illness, Warung Soto will surely continue to receive our business on a weekly basis.
5. Nanamia Food and Beverage Quality: A-
Not surprisingly, the first restaurant on the list to classify as “very expensive” is the most touristy spot we have visited. Complete with Italian style cuisine and atmosphere, Nanamia provides us Westerners with a nice break from the local options that, though delicious, are also usually quite spicy and can sometimes be overwhelming for Prince Jacob’s sensitive stomach and taste buds. However, because Nanamia is hilariously positioned beside a food stall specializing in dog meat, it doesn’t take much for travellers to remember they are in Jogja rather than Florence. Though Nanamia’s options are tasty and different from most other places, their high prices and small portions (an especially important factor when pizza is the topic of discussion) prevents Nanamia from climbing above the 5-spot in the current rankings.
6. The Loving Hut Food and Beverage Quality: B
Despite its arguably average menu options, the Loving Hut has become somewhat of a staple for our travelling group in the early going primarily because of its ability to provide everyone with a decent and quick meal. Though we aren’t often wowed by this vegan establishment, I think its safe to say it has never truly disappointed us. I liken it to Gado-Gado in terms of consistency minus the out-of-this-world menu options. At this point however, it’s a fallback option that I wouldn’t mind not visiting for the next couple of weeks. It’s tough to find seating and I am beginning to wonder…”If it tastes like meat, smells like meat, and looks like meat, how the heck isn’t it meat??” One of the many mysteries of the Loving Hut that should, in my opinion, be left forever unsolved.
7. Bakso Warung Food and Beverage Quality: C
Until this past Wednesday, I would’ve liked to consider myself someone with pretty good judgment. That is, until I made the mistake of eating at this food stall. In my defense, I was driven into madness by both gnawing hunger and a local recommendation by our usually-trustworthy Indonesian research partners. The grayish meatballs served up at this cart didn’t look like anything a sane man would want to eat and in retrospect, I wish my picky-eater side had kicked to dissuade me from making the self-sacrificial decision to chow down anyway. Despite an extremely rubbery texture, once I closed my eyes and tried not to think about what type of dead animal I was ingesting (a combination of rats and lizards immediately came to mind), the bowl of meatballs was actually pretty edible. Once the tasty mixture of noodles and vegetables was thrown into the equation, forgot altogether the questionable decision we had made. The next morning however, we paid dearly for our mistake. All I will say is it that the situation would have been made much less tense if our apartment was furnished with more than one bathroom.
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This past Saturday, we had the privilege of making two remarkable visits in what added up to my favorite day in Jogja thus far. Though to be precise none of our Saturday was actually spent within the city limits. Together with our Indonesian research partners, who encompass a range of ages between 20 and 30 and a wide variety of academic disciplines, we left Jogja at 10 a.m. We headed first to the farm and home of Iskandar Waworuntu, a farmer and educator whose property was located an hour’s rickety car outside of the city center. The ride, which for us passengers in the back of the van was filled with stunning views of the coast and surrounding mountains, was surely less enjoyable for our driver as he struggled with the manual transmission up the sharp ascent, leading to some exciting/terrifying engine stalls and uncontrolled reversals back down the road. Nevertheless, we survived and our effort (rather, the driver’s) was well worth it, paid for by panoramic vistas and one of those hope-I-never-forget-for-as-long-as-I-live moments (which are rapidly piling up for me in Indonesia) with my first sight of the Indian Ocean and the sun bouncing off its telltale Tiffany blue waves several miles away.
Iskandar met us in the driveway of his home, a large compound of buildings with the characteristic pagoda peaks and moss-covered terracotta tiles of traditional Javanese architecture. Iskandar filled a room already packed with Indonesian and American students with one of those rare outsized-presences, which despite his soft-spoken demeanor, expanded far beyond his self. His presence was magnified by his height – he is huge by Javanese standards, though my ego, which has been inflated to dangerous levels since I realized I’m far taller than any Indonesian I’ve met, could rest easy – I still had a couple of inches on him.
Iskandar took us on a tour of his farm, which was constructed as an irrigated grid system resting on a series of tiers built into the mountainside. The farm’s tiered design, efficient use of space, and completely sustainable operation aided by a surprising amount of modern technology recalled an illustration of a settlement in the Martian desert off the back of a paperback version of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles that I read in middle school. Like Borobudur Temple in my last post, this farm emanated a sense of otherworldliness. Not a square foot of land was allowed to lie unused. Iskandar doubles the seedbeds as chicken feeders, so the chickens can aerate the soil in their search for worms that are raised in buckets under the cages of rabbits whose urine adds nutrients to the soil for the worms’ consumption. Got all of that? The rabbits are raised for human consumption, and their waste, plus the human waste that they become (what a delightful image), and the waste of the goats, cows, and other livestock on the farm are all added to two large sealed concrete domes. The domes, to continue with my sci-fi references, looked just like the farm buildings on Tatooine that you see at the beginning of A New Hope. Instead of housing the Skywalkers, however, they are actually bio-fuel generators, filled with a mixture of waste and pressurized water that push the methane emitted from the decomposing biological matter up the hillside through a series of vents and pipes to the main house, where the gas is used to cook food. I had a bit of a chuckle to myself at the thought that the food you’re eating is produced from the food you just ate. Talk about sustainability.
Following his tour, Iskandar spoke to us about the need for humans to not only take from nature what can naturally be replaced, but to give back and offset the centuries of misuse and abuse of our natural resources. He spoke too of the spiritual and ethical impetus for living a sustainable life. Iskandar, a practicing Muslim, said that “even if you don’t believe in God, and just believe in good – which is God’s most important part – you can still see the need to take care of all that we have been given.” With that he bid us to dig into one of the more memorable meals of my trip, a feast of catfish satays, cucumber curry, roasted eggplant, fried tofu and tempeh, all made, grown, raised on the property. Even the water was ridiculously good; it was drawn from a 200 meter-deep well tapping into a 100,000-year-old aquifer, untouched till now. The freshness of each ingredient made the Whole Foods produce counter look like a raccoon-inhabited dumpster behind a Taco Bell.
After the farm we drove another hour to the beautiful black sand Parangtritis beach where we – the six Bi-Co students and our Indonesian counterparts – enjoyed an afternoon of intense waves (the largest I’ve ever seen), coconuts, sunburn, and, well, I’ll let Google image search do the rest of the talking. As we got ready to leave the beach, we were seated in a circle with Joan Scanlan, a woman of American birth who has lived in Indonesia for close to twenty years and has two daughters with an Indonesian man. The subject of her talk was “cross-cultural understanding” and since she occupies such an interesting position at the intersection of the cultures of the students in our group, I was excited to hear her thoughts and suggestions for us as we try to get to know each other in these first few days and weeks of our partnership. Yet after we sat in our circle for half an hour, I increasingly felt that the conversation – through no fault of the students’ – was, for lack of a better word, lame.
Side note: to my mind, one of the more tiresome practices that Haverford students (myself included) engage in – and perhaps college students in general – is the habit of turning any experience into a somehow problematic event. I understand that’s a broad, vague statement, but so too are the ways we problematize (hate that word) so many aspects of modern life as evidence of post-colonialism, globalization, late capitalist excess, Western hegemony, etc. – all words I similarly try to avoid, if only because they seem to be so persistently misused. Platitudes like “the world is so messed up” and “it’s just a product of his white privilege” or “stop being so hetero-normative” can trivialize and simplify those human events, relationships, and basic tenets of our individuality that are so much more complicated than those allowed for by a black-and-white worldview in which every situation provides another problem to whine about. That is not to say that racism, nationalism, neo-colonialism, homophobia, and injustice do not run rampant in our world. They do, and must be fought and opposed at every opportunity. All I’m saying is that they’re not the only forces in the world and that our actions can also be the product of positive forces, not just negative ones. But like I said, this is an issue I have with college students — both myself and my peers. The rest of the world suffers from not confronting these questions, but I think college students sometimes lose sight of the broader picture by focusing on them at the exclusion of others. For me, a central part of college is to analyze the problematic models and pathways of power and abuse in the world that we might not otherwise notice, but I don’t think it’s necessarily useful to apply these paradigms to every minute action or occurrence. Not every experience can or should be reduced to a pile of crap – though Iskandar would probably like the unlimited fuel for his home. I know that this line of reasoning might be/definitely is unclear, so as an example, consider the time my friends and I went to a Pakistani restaurant in Philly last year. One friend, who I love dearly, treated us all to a lengthy remonstration on how the meal he was preventing us from enjoying was really the product of a post-colonial system of migration that came about because we (i.e. white people – not a wholly accurate description of our group, anyway) had robbed the Asian subcontinent of its human resources through a global system of capital exchange that favored western countries and left little opportunity for employment or social mobility in the rest of the world. Or something like that. I’m sure that’s true – and I do believe it is essential we question the systems of power and exploitation that drive the world – but dude, leave my mango lassi alone.
This is all a way of saying that I hate what I’m about to do. I’m fully aware of my hypocrisy as I dive into what was on the surface a beautiful event – sitting in a circle on breathtaking beach, sipping water straight from the coconut, meeting six new, exciting, brilliant students from Indonesia. What could be so bad about that? The issue I have is that Ms. Scanlan’s discussion was based around difference. Specifically she outlined the supposedly insuperable differences between Americans and Indonesians that we will have to confront if we have any hope of working together this summer. She told us that Indonesians are offended if you touch them on the head or eat in the street. We were informed that bathrooms here don’t have toilet paper (as if we hadn’t yet noticed). And we were told that Americans are independent, that we speak our minds, that we are more comfortable being ourselves in public than Indonesians. Indonesians, we were told, are a withdrawn, self-effacing, modest people who – according to Ms. Scanlan – can be so reserved and eager-to-please that it can take years before “you figure out what an Indonesian person is really like because they hide themselves from you.” When I suggested that in my limited time in this country, the biggest surprise was how similar – despite all our differences –Indonesians and Americans (two inadequate demonyms that broadly paint over the diversity central to our two countries) were, my observation was treated as naïve and cliché, the kind of thing any young idealistic college student would say. Ms. Scanlan made no mention of the characteristics our American and Indonesian cultures share, just the differences.
It is vital for us to be informed of the cultural norms and customs of the country we are in. And it is essential that we don’t fulfill the “ugly American” stereotype believed, with good cause, by many people around the world to be the only type of American traveler. Yet when our differences are highlighted at the exclusion of all else, when we are told, “Indonesians are the opposites of Americans,” we lose sight of the ways in which we can connect, which was the intended purpose of our talk. You can’t build bridges over gulfs of polarity. Instead I think we can aid cross-cultural understanding by combining lessons on what makes each culture unique with a discussion of the similarities we share. And there is reason for hope for increased cross-cultural understanding, for such similarities, in this global world we live in, are ever increasing. The more I work and hang out with young Indonesians, the more I feel that we belong to a global youth culture with which we more strongly identify than any national or ethnic identity. That this youth culture is heavily dominated by the West is a problem I recognize, but if our goal is to connect, to bridge, to bond, I think that focusing on what we share should be the first order of business.
So in addition to making sure we Americans don’t go around patting strangers on the head or expecting toilet paper where there is none, why didn’t we have a conversation about the things we share? Like the European soccer teams we, Americans and Indonesians alike, support (or detest – Italy I’m looking at you). Or we could have discussed our lives as college students, which despite the gap between the styles of the American and Indonesian education systems, are similarly filled with questions of undecided futures and self-exploration. These points, among many others, are the points where I have best connected with my Indonesian peers, and they with me. Maybe I’m making mountains out of molehills, but I left our beachside discussion feeling that we were being set up to fail in our cross-cultural relations, that our differences were made out to be insurmountable. I’m happy to say that with just a few minutes of un-moderated peer-to-peer conversation, those differences, both real and imagined, fade away once a couple of like-minded soccer fans can gleefully bash Gianluigi Buffon and Mario Balotelli for their latest on- and off-field buffoonery.
Well that’s all for now. Though my tirade with respect to our “cross-cultural understanding” course might suggest otherwise, Saturday remains, several days later, the most enjoyable day I’ve had so far in Indonesia. I hope to update you soon with some news about the research I’m doing with my wonderful new partners Tere and Tiwi on the LGBT community here in Jogja.
Selamat tinggal teman-teman!
If there is one thing I miss about America, it’s the NBA and American sports in general. Every morning Colin, Alex and I check ESPN and Grantland just to keep up with everything sports wise that’s been going on in the States. I’m a big Oklahoma City Thunder fan, so I’m a little nervous right now about the NBA Finals. My Mom has been keeping me updated with emails detailing her emotions during the last two minutes of the games. Oh the drama of the NBA! But enough about American Sports! Colin and I played basketball with some locals a few hours ago, and I’d say we faired pretty well. For the first time in my life I was one of the bigger guys on the court and I actually made a couple of jumpers and a layup (shocking, I know). Colin’s ball handling skills reminded me of a young Steve Nash. We made some new friends, including Rio and another guy whose name I could not remember, but I just called him Shaq because he was wearing a full Shaquille O’Neal Lakers Jersey, shorts included! Colin has also been playing soccer every few days with a local team.
A really great aspect of playing basketball with the locals is that I get to practice my Bahasa. I am still definitely struggling to hold a full conversation in Bahasa but I can make small talk about where I am from and what I am doing in Indonesia. I have embarrassed myself a couple times. It is very easy to confuse the numbers here. I definitely feel inadequate when I make simple mistakes in a foreign language, but I am here to make mistakes. The best way to get better is to practice speaking with native speakers, so I am going to have to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
Today we had our first day of class with Professor Leslie Dwyer. Leslie is a former Haverford Anthropology Professor and now teaches at George Mason University. We are going to spend the next month learning how to do fieldwork research with her, and also conduct a field study on a topic yet to be determined. The idea of this month is to learn field research methodologies so that when we join with our NGOs we will be able to conduct an independent study of our own. While we are studying with Leslie we will also be delving deeper into Indonesian culture, history, and politics. Over the next month we will attend a number of lectures about Indonesia, and also continue to explore the city of Jogja. Our next big adventure is coming up this Wednesday. We are going to the opening of the annual Jogja Arts Festival on Malioboro Street. I am looking forward to seeing some awesome Batik designs, but I don’t really know what to expect, so it should be an exciting experience.
Alia’s post about being a Filipino in America really captures how people throughout the world often make snap judgments based on appearance. Skin color and race relations really are significant issues everywhere. Our time in Indonesia has helped me reflect on my own experiences in America. What type of snap judgments do I make about the people I meet everyday at home? I wonder if I will notice them when I return to the states, or are my own biases so deeply ingrained in my mind that it will be impossible to realize them?
Over this past weekend we went to an awesome self-sustainable organic farm in the mountains surrounding Jogja as well as a beautiful beach on the Indian Ocean. Stay tuned for a blog post from Alex about it! We also met our Indonesian research partners. They seem really great, and we are still getting to know each other. They know a fair amount of English, but we still have to break through a lot of language and cultural barriers together. It’s going to be quite challenging, but I think it’s going to be a really fun and rewarding process. The past two weeks we have spent a lot of time studying Bahasa and viewing Indonesia as tourists, but I think the opportunity to interact with Indonesian peers on a consistent basis will really allow us to immerse ourselves in Indonesian culture!
As always, there is so much more to write about, but it is getting pretty late and I am off to bed. Selamat tidur!
Okay, since I am the only non-white/stereotypical-looking member of the group, you’re probably wondering what the experience has been like so far.
Or not, but here it is anyway.
The best thing about coming from another Southeast Asian country with a similar root in the Malay language is that bahasa Indonesia has some similarities with my national language, but especially with the two other dialects I know. Driving around Jogja and reading street signs, billboards, and store signs is one of my favorite things to do. I love recognizing a word, forming new sentences with the ones I already know, and trying to talk to Indonesians. The reactions are the best – when they nod vigorously in encouragement, smile widely, or burst out laughing with joy at the correct sentence. I always join in readily.
On the other hand, Amanda said that people are just ‘confused’ by me, and I think that’s an apt description.
It’s slightly disconcerting to walk into a restaurant and have the pelayan makan or waiters talk to me in bahasa Indonesia, or that they all seem to be speaking directly to me whenever we order. Though I can understand about 30-60% of what’s being said depending on the situation, it’s an effort without the full command of the language. I respond as best I can, but often end up inserting some English words or just overall talking in English.
Also, this raises some issues on how I should act or dress or talk. Should I wear the same length skirt as Elizabeth and Amanda? Can I speak just as freely in every situation? ‘Bule’ or foreigners are not usually subjected to or expected to comply with the same social codes as Indonesians. I love that my fellow interns are culturally sensitive and very respectful. In my case, though, sometimes I am unsure on how they will consider me and what types of conduct they expect of me. Whether they will consider me bule or local, or how I should navigate this gap.
It’s also different in terms of the NGOs and the people we meet who we’ll be working with. Like Amanda also pointed out, there’s always something that each of us have to explain at some point during the ‘getting-to-know’ people process: i.e. Alex has Javanese blood on his mother’s side and so has eaten spicy food ever since he could remember, or that Elizabeth is vegetarian/pescatarian. But these things you don’t especially need to know immediately after meeting the person. On the other hand, every single time we meet someone new, they usually assume I am: a) some random Indonesian, b) the Indonesian guide or coordinator, or c) an Indonesian student intern working with the program.
I have had to explain that I am an international student from the Philippines who studies in America. Most of the time, Sari explains this; or, if they doubted who I am, they ask me afterwards if I am Asian or Indonesian. However, there have also been times when the host turned to me and spoke in bahasa Indonesia, while I listen and try to understand what he is saying and wondering whether I should go into that extended explanation or not.
Also, if that’s not the case, I am automatically considered among the ‘American participants’. Drawing attention to my citizenship risks disrupting the discourse or situation, and I usually just let it slide. I don’t know how this affects their perception of me, either. I must admit, though, that it does make me feel a little awkward. If told I study in the US, most people also assume that I grew up as a US citizen. After everything has been cleared up, however, it’s great because in each NGO or place we have been to, there’s usually somebody who has been to the Philippines, knows a Filipino/a, or has a friend there or who has gone to visit.
On the positive side, I did not realize that Philippine music and art has also entered Indonesia. Christian Bautista, a Filipino artist, is quite popular among the people I’ve met, especially my teachers. I’ve heard Filipino songs playing on the radio. Though I haven’t been back in the Philippines for sometime, I don’t remember Indonesian music having the same popularity as Korean, Japanese, or American songs. (Translation is no obstacle, given that there are usually subtitles to everything). In fact, I haven’t heard Indonesian songs on the radio at all. Which is a shame since I got the down-lows on and learned more about the politically and socially aware lyrics of the bands’ songs after attending the concert in Boyolali. They were often direct criticisms of the government (especially the Suharto regime), environmentally friendly, etc. I wish that they were more popular in my country.
In this way, I feel like it becomes more of an inter-country dialogue. In addition to this cultural exchange, Satunama, one of the NGOs we’ve visited, had apparently gone to the Philippines to acquire skills and learn with Filipinos on techniques to be applied in the field of civil societies and negotiating with indigenous peoples on water resource management, land management, mining, and other related issues. I was especially excited to learn about this, since I believe this is a step in bridging gaps between Southeast Asian countries in order to tackle similar issues. The Pacific Ring of Fire, with its wealth of natural disasters that plague the countries like clockwork, definitely shares some characteristics environmentally and geographically. Communities in these areas could benefit from a sharing of ideas, and this is something that I hope to see and learn more about in Indonesia.
Ok, I’m not completely floundering. But my experience and presence in Indonesia has certainly seemed as if I were riding on a magic carpet that is ripped out from underneath me periodically.
But I don’t mind it at all, when I fall straight into ‘holes’ like discovering more of the grinning Indonesian interns, who are always happy to give me tips and pointers. Or when I recognize a word I’d heard from a pelayan before. Or when I successfully and sneakily pull off speaking bahasa Indonesian (two or three sentences in proper grammar at the grocery store, ha!). Or when a short conversation about coming from Southeast Asia turns into an interesting explanation on Indonesian history.
I’m sure more fascinating holes will turn up in the future.
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Greetings from Yogyakarta!
We’ve been in Yogyakarta, or Jogja, for almost two weeks, time that’s gone by both fast and slowly. My sense of time here is warped for a variety of reasons, not least the jet-lag and the challenge of following baseball games some 10,000 miles away happening, by Indonesian time, yesterday. Or the fact that on my return journey home, I’ll be leaving Jogja August 10th, arriving in Hong Kong on August 11th and then arriving in Vancouver on August 10th before finally landing at JFK on the 11th – again. Do they count all the days, lost and gained to travel, in the final tally of our lives? Temporal disjunction aside, time here does seem to move at a different pace. It can be slow, with long lunches you linger over that don’t leave you feeling pressured or rushed before you get to your next class, meeting, whatever. And in the blistering heat (even worse, the humidity) of the afternoon, I doubt there’s any way your body can move other than at a sluggish, snail-pace. Recommendation #1: don’t go for a run with the sun out unless you wont to bonk or burn within the first two miles. Yet some things here also seem to move much faster than at home in the Philadelphia suburbs. The most common language here, Bahasa Indonesia, blurs before my ears, with seemingly no breaks, breaths, or pauses. Then there are the hundreds of mopeds, motorbikes, and Vespas (which I have quickly learned are different from each other, lest you dare confuse them) quite literally speeding by at every time of day. When I say every time of day, I mean every time of day, as most Indonesians, at least on predominantly Muslim Java, get up before the sun at 4 a.m. for both the pre-dawn’s practical cool and the muezzin’s first call to prayer. Recommendation #2: for the secular or just plain sleepy visitor, bring earplugs – in the world’s most populous Islamic country you’re Muslim until proven otherwise.
By some measures – such as those provided by that unproven, un-citable wonder known as Wikipedia – Jogja is Indonesia’s second largest tourist attraction after Bali. Bali has beautiful beaches, clubs, killer pork dishes (missing, alas, in Muslim Java), and, according to at least one Indonesian friend, a peculiar sub-culture of dreadlock-sporting, Rasta-loving Australian expats. With all that to offer just a few hundred miles to the east, why would anyone come to this small city in central Java? Again according to Wikipedia, “Jogja is a center of Javanese culture,” with batik, a special wax-dyed fabric, and gamelan music oozing out of every city pore. The other fiver interns and I have gotten a taste of Javanese culture – literally, with respect to the food (oh the food!), but also in our unsuccessful 5-hour-long lesson on batik making this previous weekend. All I have to report from that particular day is that I now have an immense respect for any practitioner of batik. The hours upon hours of dyeing and drawing and dyeing and drawing, in wax, the intricate and interweaving designs unique to batik pains my mind to consider. I’m sweating just thinking about it.
We’ve also experienced the rich religious diversity and history of these islands. Beyond the ubiquitous mosques and calls to prayer, still so foreign to my American ears, there are Hindu and Buddhist shrines throughout the city. Whenever we pass one and I see the telltale swastika painted on its front, I have to remind myself that the symbol’s history is much longer and decidedly less odious than its brief turn as the Nazi party’s emblem. On the outskirts of Jogja we visited, on two different occasions, the 1200-year-old Hindu Prambanan temple compound. Majestic and otherworldly are the only words to describe the temple. Just as old, but perhaps even more impressive, if only for its rural setting wedged between multiple mountains, volcanoes, and rivers, was the Buddhist Borobodur temple compound we were lucky enough to visit this past week. The temples, though different in their geography, age, history, and though serving different religions, unexpectedly reminded me of sites of worship in the West, from Washington’s National Cathedral, to Westminster Abbey, to Notre Dame in Paris. Whether on the slopes of Mt. Merapi or residing on the Banks of the Seine, these paeans of brick and mortar were built from a universal spiritual awe felt by men and women for millennia. And even though I’m not the most religious person (recall those earplugs), I can’t help but feel some of the awe the builders must have felt, marveling at their world and existence.
But what about the reason the CPGC has sent has to Jogja? We are here as budding “social change agents” and as fledgling researchers, jumping into the sometimes-chaotic world of non-profits and NGOs (or, as they say in Bahasa Indonesia, LSMs). We have visited all of the organizations the six interns will be working with research with this summer. From LKIS – an Islamic organization trying to check the power of fundamentalist Islam in the Indonesian education system – to WALHI – a collection of environmental activists combating the degradation of the slopes of Mt. Merapi – to my own organization, Planned Parenthood, the groups we will be lending our efforts to are all doing praise-worthy and challenging work. My favorite moments thus far have been those when we’ve been able to see, on the ground level, the kind of work these organizations do, and the devotion they bring to the job everyday. I cannot wait to being working with PP, and look forward to updating you all with some more adventures in the upcoming days and weeks.
Until next time, sampai jumpa!
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The program (and especially Sari and her family) has been treating us to all sorts of goodies in Jogja, it’s been such a blast (especially the food).
Jacob has explained many of the activities we did. Since his internet is currently disagreeing with him, he and I decided that I should post some photos.
The best part is meeting people, practicing the language, and discovering more of Jogja. I’ll write more about our adventures and WALHI in my next post.
I cannot believe that it has already been a little more than a week since we all arrived in Jogjakarta (Jogja). We have done so much already. In the mornings we have four hours of Bahasa Indonesian language class and in the afternoons we have been visiting all the different NGOs that we will be interning with in the coming weeks. We have four wonderful teachers who work with us every morning. Their names are Ade, Ayu, Aci, and Dani. They have all been pushing us to learn Bahasa Indonesian and have been really supportive and encouraging. I think we have all been grasping the language pretty quickly. You do not have to conjugate verbs in Bahasa Indonesia, so really it all boils down to learning vocabulary and understanding placement of words. Most of the time I spent learning Spanish was spent learning different conjugations of verbs and understanding when to use the conjugations, so learning Bahasa Indonesian has been a welcomed change of pace.
I have found traveling in Jogja to be quite a shocking experience. The most uncomfortable part of driving in a major city like New York or Philadelphia for me is that awkward moment when I have to pass someone who is on a bicycle. Unfortunately, for every car in Jogja, there must be at least 10 motorbikes. Whenever we drive, motorbikes surround us. Often times there are two or three and sometimes four people sitting on one motorbike. It is a surreal experience to watch a mother drive a motorbike with two babies, one strapped on her back and one strapped on her front, and swerve in between lanes while passing cars and other motorbikes. Somehow millions of Indonesians commute using motorbikes everyday without an accident.
Over the weekend, we made visits to both Prambanan Temple and Borobudur Temple. Prambanan is an ancient Hindu temple built in the 10th Century and Borobudur is an ancient Buddhist Temple built in the 9th Century. I wish I could post some pictures of our visits, but unfortunately, my Internet connection is too slow right now. The temples are beautiful. It is amazing what simple manual labor can accomplish. For me, walking around the top of Borobudur was one of the most meditative and peaceful experiences of my life. The view of mountains was by itself an awesome moment, but I think it was definitely enhanced by the fact that I was surrounded by Buddha sculptures built over 1000 years ago.
Our weekend also included a five-hour batik lesson and an Iwan Fals concert. Batik is one of Indonesia’s traditional art forms and “batik” literally means “process.” The process includes placing wax over a design on a cloth, and then dyeing the wax so that the area under the wax does not become the color of the dye. It was pretty challenging to place the wax on the cloth exactly where I wanted to put it, but my design came out ok overall. Eventually I’ll post some photos of our batik making classes to demonstrate the different stages of the art. Iwan Fals is a famous musician in Indonesia. Many people we have spoken to here refer to him as “the Bob Dylan of Indonesia.” His concert was a lot of fun. I was a little tired and I wish I could have understood his words, but I thought he gave a great performance. Here is a link to some of his music.
We have also spent some time exploring the city of Jogja, including trips to Jalan Malioboro (Malioboro street), a famous shopping street in Jogja, and Pingit, an impoverished neighborhood where Amanda will be working later this summer. I really enjoyed visiting Pingit. There were lots of little kids there who were really excited to see us. They were really impressed by Alex’s leg hair. Sometimes, it feels like we are a spectacle in Indonesia. At one restaurant I realized that a flash was going off and I turned to see a few young children taking pictures of us with a camera. Many adults watch us as we walk by, and every once in a while, someone will ask to take a picture with us. It is an uncomfortable feeling to stand out. I have become very conscious of all my actions. When I struggle to order food in Indonesian, do the waiters judge me? When I walk through Jalan Malioboro do the merchants view me as a genuine person? Or, do they view me as an ignorant foreigner, as a remnant of colonialism? I think we are perceived differently depending on whom we are interacting with and where we are. Overall the people of Jogja have been incredibly warm and welcoming.
Tonight we are visiting Elizabeth’s NGO, Kotak Hitam, a documentary film organization that works to promote alternative perspectives of Indonesian history. We will be going to a film viewing and then have an opportunity to learn more about the organization’s current efforts. I promise more posts soon on topics ranging from what each of our NGO’s are and how our language classes are going to the different types of delicious Indonesian food and juices that we have tried. But for now, sampai jumpa (see you later)!
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Last summer, I remember reading and loving Jen and Maddy’s blog about their experiences with the CPGC’s Indonesia Research Program. Here I am almost a year later, about to embark on my own journey to Indonesia with Alia Luz, Amanda Beardall, Elizabeth Reilly, Alex Jacobs, and Colin Lubelczyk.
Our flight leaves from JFK in about 5 hours. Right now, I am both excited and nervous. There are so many new experiences and challenges awaiting us: a new language and history to learn, a new culture to embrace, a new city to explore, and according to Maddy, lots of new juices to be tried.
Things I can’t wait to write about include:
- Indonesian history and politics
- Bahasa, the main language of Indonesia
- New foods
- New juices (are there any Maddy didn’t try last summer?!?!)
- New friends?!!?!?!?!
- Yogyakarta, the city where we will be staying for the next 10 weeks
- Experiencing Ramadan in a Muslim Nation
- Living in a country with a strong Muslim identity
- And so much more!
I promise to write a more detailed post soon about what our program is about and what we will actually be doing while in Yogyakarta. There is so much to talk about, but right now I have to get ready for our flight. 16 hours from JFK to Hong Kong, 4 hours from Hong Kong to Jakarta, and another hour from Jakarta to Yogyakarta. Add in layover time and that all comes out to about 30 hours of travel… Let’s do this.
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