Friday, December 31, 2010

excursion to Solo! :)

On Wednesday and Thursday of this week we headed to Solo. Solo is a nearby city, an hour and half or so from Salatiga by bus. Solo is called one of the big Javanese culture cities. (The other, I'm told, is Jogjakarta, only 2 1/2 hours away.)

It was a wonderful experience to explore some more areas around Jawa Tengah (Central Java).

And we were lucky enough to have D, a wonderful host and Solo native as our guide.

We rented a car and drove outside of Solo. First we went to a waterfall, named Jumok. It was a lovely little natural setting. There weren't a lot of people or trash. The water was clear and cold. And the air quality felt fresher than the cities of Java. The mist sprayed from the waterfall and it was just a lovely location.

Afterwards, we headed to Candi Sukuh.
Check it out at wikipedia:
The temple was built on the edge of Mount Lawu. The monument was built around 1437. According to Wikipedia, (I'm doing exactly what I always tell my students NOT to do!) before the Islamic religion came to Java, Indian influenced the art and religion of Java. And so the stories depicted through the statues in this temple are based from Hindu mythology. (Wikipedia says the Hindus praised sexuality, whereas the Islamic people may have supressed it when they arrived in Java. Because evidence was found of statues knocked over after their arrival. And some of the more sexually explicit statues were decapitated.)

We also went to Candi Cetho. Like Sukuh, it's a Javanese-Hindu temple. And built around the same time period. I is a really amazing structure.

Afterwards, we drove around and headed to Sarangan. It was a little town with a pond/lake with a small island in the middle of it that you could take a boat out to see. Because of a heavy fog, we didn't go, but it was still a neat setting. We jalan-jalan'ed (walked around) a bit and bought some oleh-oleh. (Souvenir "snacks" that people here buy and bring back for friends and family whenever they take a trip or go out of town. A common thing to say to others, once you know they are going on a trip, is "Jangan lupa oleh-oleh!" = "Don't forget the oleh-oleh!") We bought some brem, which is a snack made from tape. (Tape is made from fermented rice. It's made from a kind of rice called ketan and then yeast is added to it and it is allowed to set and ferment.)

We made our way back to Solo and ate at a little warung and had the oh-so-delicious Nasi Liwet. (It is rice and coconut milk) and then on the top is sambal goreng (made from labu, or chayote, and coconut milk and spices), and also served with egg and chicken, if you desire, on top. It is one of my favorite dishes. And hard to find in Salatiga, but easily accessible in Solo. And I personally adore that it's served in a wrapped-up banana leaf! I still feel very exotic whenever I eat it, which I think would seem really ridiculous and silly to fellow Indonesians, since it is so "biasa saja" (just ordinary) for people here.

We stayed in a nice, moderate hotel called Hotel Kencana.

And the next day we went to Gunawan Setiawan. It was a batik store and factory (for lack of a better term). And we got to see how the batik is made.

As we have learned before in various other settings, batik is fabric, of varying colors and motifs. It is originally from Indonesia; although apparently there is some dispute over its origination. I've heard that Malaysia has also claimed it.)

But the batik can be printed (cap) or written (tulis). The cap is more common as it is cheaper and does not always take as long to produce. Whereas the written batik is done all by hand.

This place had women sitting on tikar (sitting mats that are very popular in Indonesia) and writing on the fabric, making batik. We also saw a man doing the printing with a huge stamp. (It was amazing how fast it dried!)

There were big vats of the natural materials used to make the ink or dye to give the fabric its rich and vivid colors. (Barks, flowers, woods)

In another corner, a fireplace burned. And in another corner a big, huge vat of dye sat. In the middle of the room two men stood in water and used their feet to wash the fabric. (It reminded me of people using their feet to stomp out the juice from grapes to make wine!)

The process takes a long time. Usually 6-9 months, we were told. I guess that this is because they can't add each dye at once. If there are different colors or designs then they each still have to go through this slow, meticulous process.

It was an amazing sight to see. And then it made a lot more sense that the fabrics sell for 300,000-600,000 rupiah to as much as 3,000,000 rupiah for 4 meters or so. But they were beautiful.

There was also a batik museum where we could see batiks that were 40-50 years old, and being preserved.

(I considered buying some, but the motifs of batik are so busy and there are so many choices that I get easily overwhelmed. And I usually end up leaving the store or shop because I have a hard time deciding. Hopefully someday I'll be decisive and "moved" enough to buy some nice fabric and have some clothes custom-made.)

Afterwards, we made our way to the keraton in Solo. The Keraton means Javanese palace. There is a Javanese king who lives there. It was a neat thing to be able to see some more of Javanese history.

Just the other day, Brandon & I were discussing how most of our knowledge of the history of Java is since the Dutch ruled. We don't know much more then. So this whole excursion was a nice chance to consider and learn some more about Javanese culture and history.

We also had a lovely lunch at a restaurant called Solo Pecel. It was delicious (red rice, and vegetables with a spicy/sweet/spiced peanut sauce over top). And the decor of the place was very festive. (I was told traditional Javanese-esque.) The vats of rice and other foods were all laid out in vats that were lined with banana leaves. And the waiters and waitresses all wore batik. Big wooden benches surrounded the restaurant. The wall was lined with famous Indonesian people who had eaten there. And outside men played traditional musical instruments (not sure of the names) and women wore traditional batikwear and sang. It was lovely and very festive.

We spent a little time at the mall, doing very non-blog-noteworthy mall stuff, since there isn't one in Salatiga.

And then we came home. (To a very whiny kitty!)

It was a lovely chance to experience more of Solo & the surrounding area has to offer.

And again, let me just say how touched and deeply amazed I am by Javanese hospitality. For however many people make me feel like an outsider, laugh at my "bule-ness", who overcharge me because I'm white, and glare at me, there are 3x more Javanese folks who simply astound me, because they have been unfailing kind and generous to us.

Thank you, D, for your warm welcome, your kindness, your patience, so freely giving of your time, the cultural and language lessons, etc.

And to everyone else out there, all who have been so amazing to us since we moved here.

Thank you. People like you warm our hearts and make us want to extend our contract to 4 years.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

the non-touristy ponderances from our trip

It is a weird thing to be a service worker and to go on vacation in Indonesia.

On the one hand, of course I am really happy when we vacation. Selfishly, there are so many gorgeous places to see and to visit (um, how many MCC workers have Bali one island over?). And it's great that we can participate in the local economy and support tourism because (especially) in Bali and in Lombok it is such a source of jobs.

And yet, as happy as I feel & while it's so nice to vacation, the whole thing also makes me uncomfortable. And it takes me awhile to relax. It seems to be tight rope that I have a hard time walking.

After assuming a service worker position/living a simple lifestyle, and agreeing to really try and immerse, and in meeting Indonesian people and seeing how many live and hearing their stories, it is hard to get out of that mindset.

And of course, that extends to vacations.

We are supposed to be living at the same economic level as our fellow dosen (lecturers) and yet, because we don't have kids and because we have MCC vacation funds available to us, we have the benefit of going on vacation which is such a privilege and a blessing. Even though on paper we make a lot less money for our monthly salary.

Also, because we can speak (however not-yet-fluent) Indonesian, we often end up having conversations in Indonesian with the local people. And while they admit that they are happy that we are there, I can't help but wonder the negative effects tourism has on them and their culture.

I also get to hear bits of their stories and background and it's hard to just relax and allow myself to be a rich pampered westerner knowing some about their lives and hardships.

Gili Air was a lovely place to visit, but I can't imagine living there. It was so amazingly remote and isolated. I can't imagine too how it would feel for an Indonesian. (Because living in Gili Air is so "sepi" (quiet/still/desolate) and it seems valued--both in terms of what we've heard from others and have experienced-that noisy and populated locations are better in Indonesia. Perhaps this is why when you go to malls or events there is often incredibly loud speakers and music blaring.)

Most of the hotel and restaurant workers we talked to were from Lombok but had come to the island for work because they couldn't find any in their hometowns.

Almost all of them had only finished SD (elementary school) or SMP (middle school). I was told over and over again that parents couldn't pay for further schooling. (In Indonesia you have to pay for childrens' education, which includes: fees, transportation, uniforms, and books and supplies. And it only gets more expensive the higher you go. A family of a father who's a laborer and a mother who's a domestic helper may have an average monthly income of 1 juta = 110 dollars, and some entrance fees for high school range from 3 juta-5 juta. That is just for the initial entrance fees. Money is often borrowed or begged for if parents can't pay for it. Other times, education is foregone. Eating, obviously, is more imperative.)

These (mostly young boys) explained that they wanted to/still want to continue in their studies but they need save money first.

Hearing this was devastating. It really breaks my heart to hear of the people who want education but can't have it. Education is so important (for a person's economic advancement and personal growth and development), and it is something I so highly value and enjoy so deeply...I can't begin to describe into words how I feel hearing of people who couldn't educate themselves further when they so desperately wanted to. It's also pretty soul-crushing to hear that it is not for Masters degrees like stories I've heard in the US, but rather the desire to continue to...5th grade? 9th grade?

And I realize, yet again, how unbelievably fortunate I am.

I know that I'm only educated because of the country I was born into and because I didn't have to pay for my education and that I had the option of student loans to attend college and university. I did not come from a well-off family, financially. And I know that I benefited incomprehensibly from the assistance available.
I am unbelievably lucky. Amazingly blessed.

It is devastating when people desire education and yet can't have it. And it's sad to see how the cycle of poverty repeats itself over generations. And while that's devastating enough, it is even more heart-wrenching to hear how they know that education is key to improving themselves and their lives. And yet still, it is our of their reach.

And I can't even comprehend just how many young Indonesian folks there are in this situation.

I wish I could help them. I wish I could help educate them.

Sigh. I love my work here at UKSW. I love that I can serve here by teaching and making a difference and giving back, using the education I have been blessed with.

But yet, sometimes it is hard...I desire to educate those who don't already have a solid educational foundation. Sometimes I wonder what our experiences would be like if we were serving/teaching on a much less developed island, not the most populated, most developed, most technologically and educationally advanced one in the nation. The English students I teach are already the privileged ones; I hunger to teach those who have not had such opportunities.

Bloom where you're planted though, eh? Serve where you were placed.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

the tourist-y version of our trip to Lombok & Gili Air...

We had a lovely time on our vacation to Lombok. Lombok, while also the word for a chili pepper in Javanese, is the name of an island in Indonesia. It is located to the east of Bali in the Nusa Tenggara area.

Gili Air is one of three small islands located off the northern coast of Lombok. The names of the other two are Gili Trawangan and Gili Menno.

We spent several days in both Gili Air and in Senggigi, which is a beach resort/touristy town about 25 minutes from the city of Mataram, where we flew into.

Impressions of Lombok: It was amazingly beautiful. It is often described as a still quiet, natural, undeveloped Bali. And our experience confirmed this.

Next to the beach were lots of high hills and low valleys scattered with coconut and palm trees. And running along right along the edge of the valleys was the road that led up and down the island. And parallel to that was the gorgeous beach and ocean.

It was a beautiful and relatively clean and quiet, comparatively to our experiences in Bali. And depending on which beach you were in, some of the sand was coal-black and very soft with fine grains. Others was more white but--if you looked closely--multi-colored and pebbly and some others were smooth and white.

The sun sets over Senggigi beach and so one day when it was very clear, we had a lovely view of the falling sun. Exquisite. (See previous posts for pictures.)

Gili Air:
The island is so small that you can walk around the circumference in about an hour and a half. There is no natural fresh water on the island; it all had to be transported by boat. (We bathed in salt water!) There are about 600 residents who lived on the island, a man told me. There are no motorized vehicles. You either walk, bike, or take a horse cart. After the crowded-ness of Java and the oh-so-many motorcycles, this was a lovely change. There is no post office, no police, no hospital, and only one local doctor.

It is remote and isolated, but in a lovely, relaxing way. And much to our happiness, there are still lots of wonderful choices of restaurants with wonderful, glorious options (which is something I've missed living in Java). We did eat Indonesian and Sasak (Lombok) food, but also Thai curries (it surprised me how often I ate rice by choice!), Mexican empanadas and fajitas and nachos & guacamole, American-esque veggie burgers and french fries, and Italian pizza, pasta, and un-specified salads, kebabs. And we had some really fatty ice cream (the ice cream here, while tasty, seems to have less cream/fat content), and some other sinfully delicious desserts like chocolate truffles and vanilla-balsamic ice cream with berries on top.

Mmm. Oh. Holy Yum.

As for activity: We spent a lot of time reading, swimming and jumping at the waves, looking for shells, watching the sand crabs, lounging and enjoying drinks and snacks on the beach--sitting in these little huts all up and down the beach.

Our hotel was called Sunrise and it was lovely. We stayed in a bungalow that was very close to the beach. (Only a short walk away; we could see the ocean from our room and could hear the waves crashing onto the shore.) And we also had a lovely garden view from our bungalow. The bungalow had two floors and the siding (like the traditional lumbung houses) was made from padi, a rice plant. The rooms were so rustic and quaint. They really made me feel like I was staying in an adult tree house (made complete by the mosquito netting around our bed upstairs and the daybed downstairs, which made it feel very tent-like). We had a hammock downstairs, which Brandon and he spent a lot of time reading in it. On the second floor we had a table and chairs where we would sit and read or take in the lovely panorama.

We had planned to snorkel but, as it was the rainy season, our clear and bright, sunny days were limited. But, luckily, the rain really didn't bother us much. First of all, we're used to it and mostly it was just a bit cloudy and less clear. Still warm and relaxing and beautiful.

A couple of funny anecdotes:

One of our last nights in Gili Air we were sitting in one of the huts along the beach, watching the moonlight fall on the ocean. The waves, crashing along the shore, started to get a bit higher, until one toppled across the legs of our hut.

Hearing a different noise, I asked: "What was that?"

Brandon, joking, said, "The foundation giving way."

We smiled and laughed.

Though, a minute later, the employees of the warung were telling us it would be better if we moved.

As we were getting out of the little hut, the whole thing started to topple over. At that point, several people had gathered round our hut and reached out to catch the precarious hut. Our food and drinks fell into the water and the lights went out.

A shocked silence followed. Then, a surprised and tickled laughter from all of us.

Then, we moved.

And got more fries and drinks. :) And now we have a fun memory of the time our table and food fell into the ocean.

Our other amusement came from a fellow tourist, who sported his loose-fitting Speedos everyday we saw him. As the island is very small and the tourist strip even smaller, we frequently came in contact with the same people.

And whenever we saw our friend, "Speedo" guy, he always was sporting this (little) clothing. At: restaurants, shops and stores, walking down the road, and (my personal favorite and much to our amusement) any pretty much any time out in public.(Ironically enough, the only time I never saw him and his Speedos was on the beach or swimming.)

My personal favorite time though was when Brandon and I waited to boat back to Lombok. Minutes before this, as it was early and we had to wait, I told Brandon that I was cranky and what would make this moment better if "Speedo-guy"--as he affectionately became known to us--would show up. Much to my delight, he did show up. Though, sadly, we took different boats.

We were gone from Dec 14-22. We returned just in time for the annual MCC Christmas dinner, which was delicious and enjoyable as always.

It was a much needed and relished holiday after our busy semester.

Indonesia is truly a beautiful, beautiful place.
And we are blessed to serve here and be able to vacation and explore some of God's magnificent creations.

merry christmas / selamat hari natal

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