Archive for February, 2012

February 23, 2012

Indonesian Grand Tour Part 5: Sulawesi Lecture Tour

by Tabitha Kidwell

When I originally thought about plans for my January-February break, I hoped to use my program activity allowance to travel around, stopping at each of my colleague’s schools to do a presentation. I even planned out how to hit all 50+ people over the 6 weeks (which was a little bit crazy, actually). But then my mom planned a visit and I wanted to learn to scuba dive and conferences got planned in the middle… and I only ended up with 10 days leftover. Luckily, that was just enough time to get around to most of the sites in South Sulawesi, and the 6 Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) in the area were happy to invite me to their schools and also to act as tour guides.

Throughout my time in Indonesia, I have been surprised by the narrow image of “Americans” – that we are all white, tall, Christian. Being white, tall, and Christian, I was perhaps not the best candidate to give a presentation about multiculturalism in America, but that is what I attempted to do. In the 5 schools I visited, I presented in ETA’s English classes, clubs, or (at one site) the whole school assembled, perhaps against their will, on a Saturday morning. It was a fun presentation – we started by looking at pictures of people and guessing where they were from. Invariably, the students said that all the non-white people were from Saudi Arabia, South Africa, China, Mexico, etc. (all were actually American) and the white people were American (all were actually from other countries). The rest of the presentation attempted to convince them that, yes, there are African Americans (besides Barack Obama and Michael Jordan), Asian Americans, Latin Americans, even – gasp – Muslim Americans. It was, admittedly, a little basic (I didn’t talk about racism or the Koran-burning controversies or anything) but I think students got the basic idea. If not, they were at least entertained for a little while. I had fun giving the presentation, but I also really enjoyed visiting the schools – I realized I teach future teachers, but I hadn’t set foot in a high school until this trip. It was great to see what goes on in the many types of high schools I got to see (a Christian boarding school, a Muslim boarding school, a vocational high school, and two traditional high schools).

Besides going to schools, I had lots of time to explore Sulawesi. If you look at a map of Indonesia, Sulawesi is the crazy island that is basically made of four peninsulas stuck together. There is a lot of unrest in the center of the island, and besides that, it is a huge place, so I only visited the southern province. First, I traveled up to Polewali, where my ETAs Beth and Chris live. I had an amazing chocolate milkshake at a beachside cafe and watched the sunset…

…then Chris and I visited the brand-new Alfa Midi, the new convenience store in town. Having gone from zero convenience stores to one amazing convenience store, Chris was pretty excited about it… and the ladies that worked there were excited that another white person came into their store…

We also climbed to the top of a “mountain” to overlook Polewali. It was more of a small hill, and there was no one around at the top, so we took the liberty of climbing the cell phone tower for a better view – and got it!

Then I took a longer-than-it-should-have-been, un air-conditioned bus up to Tana Toraja, the major tourist attraction in South Sulawesi. ETAs Rachel and Eda live in the two big towns in the region, so I got to visit both of their schools as well as see some amazing things. Toraja is known for it’s many interesting customs related to death, like special graves cut into trees for babies who die before they have teeth…

… and displaying effigies of the deceased at their burial sites…

…and sometimes just leaving bones sitting around.

Their traditional wood-carved homes and rice barns are also really stunning…

I stayed in Toraja a little longer than the other locations, giving Rachel and I time to make lots of delicious food:

Then I moved on to little Sidrap, ETA Emilie’s site. It was a Muslim boarding school, and the kids didn’t get off campus much, so they were REALLY excited to have another foreigner on campus. I think every single kid asked me “Hello, what is your name?” and gave me a high 5. It was really fun for one day, but I think Emilie is really incredible for responding to that kind of energy with patience and grace every day. The kids were so sweet, but a little intense!

Then I moved on the Makassar and ETA Katy’s school. After presenting, Katy and I went down to the waterfront and ate a pisang ijo

…then saw the most amazing sunset I have seen in a long time!

It was the perfect ending for an amazing 42 days of travel all around the country. It was an amazing trip – especially because it made me appreciate coming home to Salatiga!

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February 10, 2012

Indonesian Grand Tour Part 4: Pontianak

by Tabitha Kidwell

The next plan on my tour was to go to Pontianak, a city in West Kalimantan, the province on the island of Borneo. My friend Angela lives there, so I returned with her from Geek Week. We got back just in time to head up to Sinkawong, a city 3 hours north, for Cap Go Meh, the final celebration of Chinese New Year Festivities (a lot of people in the region are of Chinese descent.)

The town and the temple were all decked out and full of people…

And there was a special market full of food that had received a special blessing…

And there were, of course, dragons…

But the real attraction was the parade of tatungs. I didn’t get a perfect understanding of what was going on here, but I think that tatungs are people who have a special connection to the Gods on this holy day, so they go into a trance during the trip to the temple, where they will communicate with the Gods. Being in this trance means that they will not feel any pain. There were more than one thousands tatungs, all riding on specially equipped chairs and platforms.) Most were standing on nails, or were sitting on knives, but the really impressive ones were doing things like eating light bulbs, rubbing their faces with broken glass, holding hot peppers in their mouths, and wearing live snakes around their neck. The ones that really got me were the ones with wires, swords, and even bicycle parts piercing their cheeks. I couldn’t even look at those ones, thinking about how that had to hurt. But, they didn’t seem to be feeling pain, so who knows? (WARNING: POTENTIALLY DISTURBING PHOTOS AHEAD

The parade was incredible to see, but after about an hour, I was sweltering in the heat and a little nauseated by all the seemingly torturous displays, so I had to go sit down. 1,000 tatungs, though, means that the parade lasts for like 3 hours! I spent most of the rest of my time doing soft diplomacy – doing interviews with the press, letting students practice their English with me, taking pictures with every teenager with a camera phone, and even holding one lady’s baby for her.

We headed back to Pontianak the next day and were sad to hear that Angela’s boarding house had been robbed! Her host mom had lost like $1,000 in cash and $1,500 in gold jewelry! Luckily, Angela’s rooms were locked and secure, and I had put my computer in there, so all her stuff and my new MacBook air were all fine. I had unpacked my backpack about halfway when re-packing to go up to Sinkawong, leaving “stuff I didn’t need” in the bottom. The thieves took the half-full bag. If they were going to take anything, that’s the best case scenario, though “stuff I don’t need” could also be called “stuff that is easily replaced but really nice to have,” like my hiking boots, leatherman, headlamp, swimsuit, goggles, Lonely Planet, etc. I’ll buy all that stuff again, so it’s not a huge deal. The only irreplaceable thing that was taken was a bag with jewelry from Madagacsar, the Dominican Republic, Peru, and Costa Rica It isn’t all that valuable, but was meaningful to me. I’m trying to take this as an opportunity to lose things gradually and be less connected to material things, but I was a little sad. Maybe I’ll just have to return to all those places…

So the last few days in Pontianak didn’t start that well. We had to go to the police office and had to spend some time comforting her host mom, so we were distracted by doing some of the touristy things I had wanted to do, like visit the Equator museum (Pontianak is smack dab on that imaginary line!). We mostly spent the time eating the local culinary specialities, which is my preferred way to travel anywyas. We had bubur pedas, (bean stew),I the local version of nasi pecel (rice with peanut sauce) and a smorgasboard of fried foods.

By my third or fourth fried treat, I’d forgotten all about the robbery. It ended up being a nice few days in a very different part of Indonesia – Kalimantan is less developed than Java, Madura, Bali, or Lombok, the other islands I have been to in the country. In just a couple of days there, I only noticed that in terms of worse roads and fewer mini-marts. My friends who are really out in the little towns see a very different Indonesia. Next week, I’m popping around Sulawesi (another island), so hopefully I’ll get a better feeling for the “real Indonesia” then!

February 5, 2012

Indonesian Grand Tour Part 3: “Work” in East Java

by Tabitha Kidwell

Some of the pundits have sent me comments regarding the fact that I seem to be on vacation quite frequently. Ok, yes, I have had approximately 7 weeks of vacation during these first 6 months here. I suppose that would be regarded as a “generous” vacation policy by my friend who are slaving away with something like 10 days a year. This is true, and I feel for those of you who are working in unfair and usurious labor conditions. I suggest you become more like me by joining a union, becoming a socialist, and voting for Barack Obama in the next election. Alternatively, you could become more like me by quitting your job to move to southeast Asia to teach English. Either way, it looks like becomeing more like me will probably get you more vacation.

Nevertheless, I do work here. I don’t blog much about the day-to-day grind because, well, the day-to-day grind is pretty boring. I love my students and plan pretty good classes for them, but that never seems worthy of a blog post. I’ll be on the lookout next semester, though, for fun classroom anecdotes to share. Besides teaching, I also do other “work,” like presenting teacher training workshops, hosting teacher training webinars, doing special programming at the American Corner libraries in neighboring towns, helping students try to get scholarships to study in America, researching and writing articles, and spreading a positive image of America by taking pictures with lots of random Indonesian people on the street.

I even am doing some work during the Indonesian Grand Tour, believe it or not. It’s getting to be something close to a grueling working vacation. Well, maybe not. But I did do some work this week. On February 1, 4 of my colleagues and I went to Madura, an Island off of the Northeast coast of Java, to do a teacher training on using traditional games in the classroom. Indonesian people love pomp and circumstance, so the event began with an opening ceremony (complete with it’s own opening and closing procedures!), a speech from a representative from the American consulate that didn’t exactly relate to the topic of the workshop (but you have to invite the consulate!) and a coffee break (before any “training” has actually taken place!). I sometimes think all this ceremony is silly, but it seems to be important to Indonesian people. If an event didn’t have all this, it wouldn’t have the same air of officialness. After the first two hours, we got down to business and I gave my presentation on American road trip games (think: categories, 15, guessing game, have you ever, and other games that get people talking) to three separate groups.

Then everyone returned to the main hall for the panel discussion, when participants were supposed to ask questions related to using games in the classroom, but when we actually fielded questions on topics ranging from how to motivate students to the differences between British and American English.

And then we concluded the workshop and headed down to Batu, in East Java, for a couple of days of collaboration with a few more colleagues. The mid-year conference for the English Language Fellows had been cancelled this year, but several of us decided to have our own anyways. We rented a house, bought a bunch of food, and arrived ready for “Geek Week.” We did lots of important things, like:

Setting up a system to transport materials to and from the second floor without using the stairs….

Making and consuming delicious tacos…

Making and consuming delicious pancakes…


(that’s honey, not beer. I promise)

Oh, and we also shared our best practices, ideas and resources, like Angela’s color vowel chart:

Geek Week was also a great opportunity to get advice and suggestions on upcoming classes and projects. It was great to hear what everyone else is doing, and to pick up ideas and feedback to take back for the second semester. And, okay, we had a lot of fun, too. Work, vacation, work, vacation… I feel like all my time in Indonesia is a combination of both. Whatever you call it, it’s just life in the end. I’m lucky to have work I enjoy and vacations that are meaningful.

February 2, 2012

Indonesian Grand Tour Interlude: How Rubber is made

by Tabitha Kidwell

Did you know how rubber is made? Me neither!

First, they cut diagonally across one side of a rubber tree (our guide said it had to always be the same side, but I don’t know why) and let the sap drain out. Each tree produces a bowl about the size of a coconut everyday.

Then, the sap is rinsed. The foamy part is scraped off the top and set aside to make lower grade rubber for things like flip-flops, while the pure rubber is separated by metal dividers and left to dry (see the tank in the background below).

The next day, the strips of rubber are taken off the metal dividers and hung to dry.

The third day, they are moved into a room with a fire below (kind of like a huge oven) and dried even more.

When it is totally dry, the ladies at quality control check it and put it in piles.

Then these guys take the piles and use this machine to compress them.

And they sit for a few days to get further compressed.

Then they are wrapped up and put in this warehouse, presumably to be shipped somewhere and made into tires, galoshes, bouncy balls, and whatever else we use rubber for.

What I don’t get is, who originally looked at a tree and said “I bet, if we drain the sap from that tree, wash it, let it dry, then heat it a bit, it would be something really useful.”? I’m going to just start trying procedures like that at random and just see what I get!

February 1, 2012

Indonesian Grand Tour Part 2: “Trekking” in East Java

by Tabitha Kidwell

With a little hole in my plans, between scuba diving in the Gilis and meeting colleagues in East Java, my friend Jackie and I snuck in a tour of East Java. It’s a little tricky to get around, so we booked a car and a guide for a private tour. We were especially interested in climbing some volcanoes and trekking though the rainforest, so we were sure to include those things in our tour itinerary.

After this long in Indonesia, though, I should have realized that things in Indonesia will almost certainly not follow the itinerary. Our “trek” to Bromo volcano for “sunrise” ended up being more of a “drive” to Bromo volcano to “stand inside of a cloud.”

Ijen Crater, which would have been a 4-5 hour hike, was closed due to poisonous gases.


(those aren’t clouds!)

And Alas Purwo, where we were supposed to stay overnight at a lodge in the rainforest, was mysteriously closed to visitors. I didn’t totally understand why. One person told me it was because of corruption, because the government officials wanted the lodge to always be available for them and no one else. Another told me that there had been a shipwreck of refugees in the South Java Sea, and bodies might wash up on the beach. In the end, the only thing that was clear was that we were not allowed to stay there.

So the trip didn’t end up looking much like the itinereary we had planned. For one, it ended up being more sitting in the car than we had thought. Still, the guide did a really good job of replacing the things we couldn’t do with other interesting options.

The first day, after the morning fog burned off, and after we were asked to be in many photos with Indonesian tourists, Bromo volcano was very cool.

That evening, we stayed in a little town that had a hot springs and a really impressive waterfall that was overworked after a rainy afternoon.

The change of plans meant that we met up with our friends Megan and Elizabeth who, because of flight timing, were on a similar but different tour. We went to go see another cool waterfall the next morning, which was yellow due to the high sulfur content of the volcanic rocks and soil.

We also stopped the car at various intervals to see how coffee, cloves, cinnamon , and chocolate grow.

We stopped at a seaside town and visited a harbour full of beautiful, intricately painted wooden fishing boats.

Though Alas Purwo was closed for the night, we got to go on a little day hike, and saw monkeys, buffalo, and deer in the wild. (I was hoping for a panther, but it’s okay that we didn’t see one.)

We also got to see the beach, thankfully free of dead bodies.

And we got to visit the oldest Hindu temple in East Java!

We stopped the next morning at a rubber factory. The process of making rubber was so cool that it will get it’s own blog post!

And we got to meet some nice ladies making gula jawa, the palm sugar that is used in traditional sweets here.

In the end, our trip ended up being more of an agricultural visit than a trekking tour, but it was still fun. We got to see a region of East Java that a lot of people don’t get to. And we didn’t see any dead bodies, die of poisonous gas ourselves, or get mauled by a panther. With parameters like that, this definitely qualifies as a good trip!