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Monday, 30 July 2012

One Month of Indonesian Life

Today marks one month since I arrived in Indonesia! It's hard to believe how quickly the time has passed. Although saying that, I do already feel like I've established a home here in Jakarta. I have met some great friends, I work with some really awesome teachers and have wonderful students, I have my favourite grocery store and I'm beginning to get to know my way around this part of the city. Although it is starting to feel like a new home, I am reminded daily of how foreign this place is to me  - between the mosque prayers, the heavy traffic, foreign smells, and abundance of unusual sightings (I.e. Today I saw a monkey wearing a doll's head and wig outside of the mall). I am definitely not in Brighton!

My weeks have been extremely busy with long work days so I have been trying to take advantage of my weekends and see and do as much as I can.

Monas National Monument

A few weekends ago I went to a National Monument called Monas here in Jakarta. I went during the night and the place was like a massive market and carnival. There were people selling everything from undies to live bunnies. There were monkeys riding miniature motorcycles, men doing chants and dances, people dressed in traditional costume, many food stalls with very unfamiliar foods, and so on. It was a neat experience, but somewhat overwhelming with the amount of people that were there. I had to be sure to hold my purse tightly! I took a motorcycle to and from this place with another staff member. Motorcycles are the most common means of transportation in Jakarta. I was a bit nervous at first because of the amount of traffic zooming in and around us as we drove to the monument. Like I mentioned before, there REALLY aren't any rules on the roads here. I cannot even begin to describe what traffic is like here. I am so thankful to be living and working in the same building so that I do not have to commute every day. Some of my students and coworkers have more than a two hour commute each way due to traffic. If there is an accident or protest then they can be stuck for hours on end. 

Jakarta Traffic
A week ago Saturday marked the beginning of Ramadan. Because this country is 90% Muslim, the observance of Ramadan is quite noticeable throughout the city. Ramadan takes place for one month and during this time people fast between sunrise and sunset. I have been told when I am in public or in a taxi, it is considered disrespectful to eat or drink during this time. Most restaurants put curtains across their windows during the day so that those who are fasting do not have to see inside. In the evenings when fasting is over for the day, the city becomes very busy as a lot of people go out to eat.

Last weekend was the first weekend of Ramadan, and because of this the city was extremely quiet with very little traffic. Some friends and I took advantage of this and did some sight seeing. We went to Anchol Beach which is in North Jakarta on the Java Sea. We also went to Kota which is the old city of Jakarta which at one point was under Dutch rule. This part of the city is quite different from the rest of Jakarta and almost has a slight European feel to it with the Dutch influence. While here, we went to the famous Batavia Cafe. The cafe was beautiful and had a Southern plantation style to it. The walls of the bathrooms at this cafe are filled with black and white pictures from floor to ceiling. Some of the pictures included jazz singers, while others were of models. Any photograph with a female showing any skin, was covered with newspaper - this is only for the month of Ramadan. I was also informed at this cafe that alcohol is not served during this month.

Another interesting cultural difference is that when you hand someone something here, you should only use your right hand. I find this really hard to remember, and got my first dirty look from a taxi driver a few days ago when I handed him the money with my left hand. It is definitely something I have to keep reminding myself of. 

Aside from the few tourist spots and a night out on the town, I have also visited over six malls now, had my first Indonesian hair salon experience and went to a spa yesterday! Spas are ridiculously cheap here! I had a sixty minute massage and it was the equivalent of $6. The massage was quite different from ones at home - for such a tiny woman, my masseuse sure had some strength. The massage included punching me in the feet for about five minutes. I was too shocked to question it and figured with the language barrier, it would be pointless to ask what the heck she is doing! At the end my feet actually felt amazing! I think this is a good treatment for after a night out of wearing heels!

I still have yet to pick up on much Bahasa (the National language). My students are pretty incredible with their ability to learn languages - they are all English and Bahasa speakers and are learning Mandarin on top of that. I have asked them to help me learn Bahasa. Each day they teach me a new word, which I practice with them and then listen to them laugh at my horrible attempt at pronouncing it correctly.

Here is what they have taught me so far.
Teacher = Guru
Thank you = Terima Kasih
Beautiful = Cantik
Eat = Makan
What = Apa

Everyone keeps assuring me that Bahasa is easy to learn as it does not have verb tenses. Something else I have found out is that they do not use plurals in the language. Instead of pluralizing a word, they just repeat the word twice. I have also sat in on a few Mandarin classes with my students - I DEFINITELY have no hope of learning that language!

I mentioned before how this country is greatly divided between the rich and poor. I am noticing this more and more. People at my school refer to this country as a "Nanny Nation". Most of the children have their own Nannies that come with them to school and wait in a separate area until the children are ready to go home. The kids also all have their own drivers! Having your own driver is not too unusual here. When I tell people I am taking a taxi by myself or walking to the mall down the street, many of the reactions I get are ones of shock. I think because most people have so much hired help, they find it odd for someone to come here and do things on their own. I have had to explain to many people that I enjoy being independent and I don't mind going places on my own.

My first big holiday is coming up in 18 days. We have a week off at the end of Ramadan. I am planning to hike a volcano and visit some small islands near by! I will be sure to post pictures after these adventures :)

Thanks for reading!

Yummy meal for 2-4 people for under $10!

Friday, 6 July 2012

My First Week in Jakarta

Well, my long journey was fairly smooth across the globe. After flying from Toronto - LA - Tokyo - Singapore... I finally arrived in Jakarta and was happy to be back on ground (extremely foreign ground)! I was greeted by staff members and a personal driver to take me to my apartment. After dropping my luggage off we hit some malls to buy a phone and some basics such as groceries and bedding. While at the mall, I was treated to a fresh fruit slushy drink. This probably wasn’t the best idea! I ended up with a terrible stomach bug for the next 12 hours! After getting over the upset stomach, I developed strep throat!!
So my first few days in Jakarta were mainly spent catching up on sleep, adjusting to the time difference (11 hour difference from home) and trying to get back to feeling right!
I am feeling much better now and have started to venture outside of my apartment and tour around the area I am living.
My first impressions of the city:
- Crowded
- Crazy traffic
- A lot of pollution
- A lot of visible poverty
- More westernized restaurants than I expected (McDonalds, KFC, Burger King, A&W, etc)
- Extremely friendly faces and people
- A lot of shopping centres
- Intense humidity 
This city has roughly ten million people - from the very rich - to the very poor. It’s immediately noticeable that there isn’t much of a middle class. The high rises in my area are beautiful modern buildings, while the slums are directly next door. Throughout my travels I have not experienced seeing extreme poverty like here in Indonesia. The streets are lined with both children and adults begging and trying to sell anything they can to make a few cents. Despite all of the things they are without, almost every child I have seen is smiling or running around - laughing and playing. I saw two little boys barefoot, with raggedy clothes on playing with sticks in the dirt this morning. They looked just as happy as two little boys playing on their shiny new x-box. 
Seeing things like this has already given me a greater appreciation for my own country. As Canadians I think we’re automatically some of the luckiest people in the world. No, we’re not a perfect country and we have our problems with our government and our system, but overall we are taken care of in a way that many others around the world will unfortunately never experience. 
Getting around Jakarta:
Due to an unstructured and unplanned road system in the city, it’s basically a free for all when driving. There aren’t really any marked lanes. There are thousands and thousands of motorbikes that weave in and out of traffic. You will even see a family of four or five all on one small motorbike (small children without helmets on). There are tons of cars, buses, bicycles, tuk tuks, etc on the roads. Trying to cross the street is a bit like playing a game of russian roulette - you aren’t really sure if you’re going to make it!!! 
So far this week when I’ve gone out, I’ve opted for using a taxi. Apparently Blue Bird taxi is the only reliable taxi in the city, so this is what I’ve been using. Taxi rides are extremely cheap here in comparison to other countries. Today I took a taxi to a museum park which was over 40 minutes away - the cost of the taxi fare was $6!! 
Shopping in Jakarta:
Jakarta has over 200 malls. So far I’ve been to two! There is an upper scale mall down the street from my complex. It’s very westernized with a Starbucks and an English movie theatre. I have also ventured to a huge market mall. I cannot even describe how big this mall is. Inside are floors upon floors of vendors full of bootlegged dvds, knock off designer purses, electronics, fashion accessories, etc. I have gone here a few times as there is also a department/grocery store in the basement of the mall.

Food in Jakarta:
Because I started out my week being sick, I haven’t been overly adventurous with trying the local cuisine. My apartment complex has three restaurants in it. One of which is all Western Food. I have eaten here twice with some staff members and it is absolutely delicious!! The chef at this restaurant is Steven Spielberg’s personal chef, which is pretty exciting!
I have ventured out grocery shopping and managed to find a few familiar things (pasta, cereal, bread, fruit). Most kitchens here are not equipped with microwaves or ovens. My kitchen only has two stove top burners - so I’m trying to be creative and see how many things I can make in a pot or pan! I have a feeling I’ll be eating out a lot! :|
My building also has two asian cuisine restaurants. I had takeout from one yesterday. I tried the Javanese rice (Java is the name of the island I am on). It was really good - very similar to jambalaya.

Prayer Time:
Indonesia has a population that is 90% Muslim. Because of this, the city is dotted with many mosques. Down the street from my building is a fairly large mosque. They do prayer time five times a day, which I can hear from my building. Actually as I write this, I can hear the chants and prayers being broadcasted. 
Prayer times are roughly around 4:30am, 6am, Noon, 3:30pm, 5pm, and 7pm. I haven’t quite figured out how long prayer is suppose to last. But I know the 4:30am one seem to go on for quite a while! 
The People:
So far the hospitality has been incredible! Everyone is beyond friendly and welcoming. Indonesians seem to always be smiling and want to do their best to make sure you are comfortable in their country. I have also noticed that everywhere I go people are very patient with me since I do not speak the language (Bahasa). Often times when visiting a country that is not English speaking, people are quick to dismiss you and ignore when you ask for something. Everyone I have experienced here so far takes their time to try and understand what I am saying, and does their best to help me. I am still hoping to learn some of the language though :)

I had read that sometimes Indonesians (specifically children) are excited to see a white foreign person and may want to take a picture with them or shake their hand. I had not yet experienced this where I am living in Jakarta as it is somewhat of a multicultural area of the city. However, today when visiting a museum there were many Indonesians who most likely weren't from the city and were not used to seeing a white person. I got many stares, greetings, smiles, people shaking my hands or bowing at me. It was a bit of a strange feeling! I even had a group of school girls come up to me with their cameras asking for pictures! So I took one with them too :) Indonesians use the word "bule" when referring to a caucasian person. It comes from the word albino. So I had several people yell out "bule! bule!" today when they saw me. (I guess I need to work on my tan).

The Currency:
The money has been one of my struggles this week. I cannot seem to get used to the fact that I am carrying around millions of rupees or that a bottle of water is twenty thousand rupees. $1 Canadian dollar is roughly 9000 rupees. All of the zeros on the price tags have been quite confusing!
Today was my first day to go out and get a taste of the country. Myself and another new teacher who just moved here from the Philippines went to a park called Taman Mini. Taman Mini is a park that has replicas of different houses, buildings, and temples that are found throughout Indonesia. The whole park is suppose to give you a taste of the various islands that make up the country. We saw traditional tree houses, temples that are replicas of ones found in Bali. We took a tour through the museum which consists of traditional costumes from the different Indonesian cultures as well as instruments and other artifacts found throughout the land. 

The park also has a reptile zoo and water park. We opted for the reptile zoo today. While wandering through looking at the snakes, and crocodiles, I was so excited to spot a komodo dragon. Komodo dragons are deadly creatures that are native only to Indonesia! Upon looking at it, someone asked us if we wanted to go in and see it up close and pet it..... what probably sounds like a horribly stupid idea, somehow seemed like the best idea ever in my head. So in I went. I was face to face with a creature that could kill me with one quick lick (their saliva is deadly). After this amazing experience, I was feeling pretty brave, so decided I would also try holding a reticulating python! I wasn’t quite brave enough to wrap it around my neck like others were doing. So I just helped the zoo keep by holding one end of it!

My short few days in Jakarta have been pretty great (other than the sickness). I am looking forward to spending the next two years exploring this country and getting to know its culture!

Check back soon to read about my 24 hours in LA!