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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!

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