Archive for February, 2013

February 19, 2013

Turning Javanese

by Tabitha Kidwell

This recent article about how Barack Obama’s time on Java as a child influences him today got me thinking: how have I changed after my 18 months here?

Yesterday and tomorrow are no longer limited to one day

The tendancy of Indoneisan people to use kemarin to refer to any time in the past, and besok for any time in the near future, is a little infuriating sometimes. For example:

Tabitha: My water is broken. When will it be fixed?
Landlord: Oh, yes, tomorrow.
…(tomorrow)…
Tabitha: My water is still broken. When will it be fixed?
Landlord: Oh, yes, tomorrow.

Or:

Secretary in my office, on a Wednesday: So, you were in Jakarta yesterday?
Tabitha: No, I was in the office yesterday. You saw me.
Secretary: Yes, but yesterday, you were in Jakarta?
Tabitha: Well, I got back Sunday… but, yeah, okay, yesterday.

But now it’s useful to not really have to worry about if something was precisely one day, two, or a week ago, as long as it is still present in my short-term memory, and to think of what I will do in the somewhat near future as plans for tomorrow. Why waste the mental energy splitting hairs?

I often take on this posture:

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This is Srikandi, one of the most powerful female warriors in the traditional Wayang Kulit puppet shows. She is looking at the ground as a sign of her humility and strength. She doesn’t look around haughtily, and she doesn’t even need to acknowledge her far inferior adversaries. I find myself often looking at the ground and adopting an unassuming smile when I walk or run around town here. I find it’s the best way to avoid unwanted attention, which could come from tiny grandmothers giving me dirty looks for parading about in so little clothing (is that an ankle I see?), lascivious youths declaring their passion, (you are beautiful! I love you!) or motorcycle taxis offering their services (where you going? I drive you faster!). It’s no fun engaging with someone who won’t respond, so not making eye contact avoids a world of trouble. When I first realized how often I did this, I regretted how passive and weak I was acting, but then I learned that this is the way that the heros of Wayang Kulit stand. I prefer to think of it as standing like a hero.

Yes/No answers have a third option: Yes/No/Not yet

Indonesian speakers are very careful not to negate a future possibility. If there is a remote possibility that something will happen in the future, it would be inappropriate to close the door on that possibility with a unilateral tidak. Far better to give a non-committal belum. For example:

Are you married?
Not yet.
Do you have children?
Not yet.
Have you made your fortune selling fabric gift wrap under the catchy name “fab wrap?”
Not yet.

Everyone is Miss/Mrs./Mister to me

It’s a little bit rude to refer to Indonesian people by their names only – you should use Bapak, Ibu, Mas, or Mbak, respectively, before the names of old men and women and young men and women. This had led me to think of even my close friends as “Miss Jackie” and “Mister Jon.” To complicate things more, these four titles are only the main ones – there are also many different titles that are used for very old people, foreign people, highly respected people. Oh, and they change regionally. Just throw something in front of someone’s name and you’ll be better off. I now feel like something is missing if I just say someone’s name.


Of course, I have changed in many ways that will only become apparent when I go home and realize what is different and what is out of place in America. Hopefully I’ll lose the verbal oddities but retain the open-mindedness and the heroic posture. Just like my friend Barack Obama.

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February 8, 2013

6 Reasons Erica Carlson is awesome!

by Tabitha Kidwell

Erica and I had an amazing trip through Bali and Central Java – we had some kind of fun adventure everyday! I can’t even begin to relate everything amazing that we did, so I will just list some of the many ways that Erica Carlson is amazing!

1. She wanted to work!

Erica quit her job teaching secondary English last year, and now makes way more money working as a children’s entertainer! She makes balloon animals, does story-times, and even does magic tricks! Because of this, she has a flexible schedule and was able to come for almost three weeks. That meant I had a couple of work commitments while I was here, but it wasn’t a problem at all – Erica was totally willing to help! Plus, her M.Ed. and children’s entertainment know-how made her a great asset! As a counselor at an Access Microscholarship English Camp in far flung Kupang, she knocked the kids’ socks off with a ballooning workshop.

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She also helped lead a workshop for elementary school English teachers in Salatiga about maximizing their English use in class. Her presence helped so much – and made me enjoy “working” a lot more!

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2. She’s like the Pied Piper

As if working on her vacation wasn’t enough, Erica also did free-lance children’s entertainment walking down the street. When we rented a television on the sidewalk for an hour of karaoke, the kids came out of the woodwork and Erica charmed them!

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She also gave an impromptu English lesson in the middle of a market to some middle school girls.

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3. She wasn’t afraid to try new things

I’m pretty adapted to life here, and not much grosses me out or scares me anymore, but I will acknowledge that there are many aspects of life here that are distressing or anxiety-inducing, like fish with the heads (and eyeballs) still intact, squat toilets, and motor-biking in traffic.

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Erica was up to any challenge we came accross, even daring to eat gado-gado, mixed-vegetable and peanut sauce dish, at my favorite (but somewhat dirty) roadside stand. I guess she felt like she had to get her money’s worth from that Typhoid vaccine!

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4. She made me try new things

Again, since I’m pretty at home here, sometimes I skip the “touristy” things, but I think I often miss out on fun things because of my “cooler than a tourist” mentality. Having Erica here gave me a great excuse to do touristy things I wouldn’t do
otherwise, like a Balinese cooking class…

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…and a Batik painting class…

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…and making a wish while walking blindfolded through the Banyan trees in the Yogya town square…

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… and getting a fish pedicure!

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She also gave me a great excuse to do adventurous activities that I might not have made time for otherwise, like climbing Mt. Agung in time for sunrise…

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…and scuba diving off the east coast of Bali.

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But, perhaps most importantly, we used our many evenings together to get through the first two seasons of Downton Abbey. Is it sad if that was my favorite part of her trip here? Maybe, but it was amazing! Matthew and Mary! Mr. Bates and Anna! Sybil and the driver! Edith and the weird-face-bandage soldier!

5. She kept her cool in the heat of the moment

Like when there was a cockroach in her suitcase, or when a giant bee was buzzing around us. Or when there was a baby cockroach on her iPhone. Or when the giant toke lizard was in our hotel room in Ubud. Or when a giant spider was hiding on the scoop she was using to pour water over herself to take a shower. Or when there was no water to even take a shower. NBD. She’s tough! Plus, she took care of me when I felt sick and only wanted to do this:

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6. She noticed things I have started to ignore

Erica brought a fresh perspective and reminded me of all the things that make life charmingly wonderful here, like the wildlife…

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…and the funny statues…

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… and the “traditional Balinese Starbucks.”

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… and the amazing sunrises and sunsets.

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All in all, it was am amazing trip! I miss having her here, but I’m comforted that we’ll get to see each other again when I go home in just a few months. Especially since then we can watch Downton Abbey season 3!

Cheers to a great trip!

Cheers to a great trip!

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February 1, 2013

Ode to Durian

by Tabitha Kidwell

Durian fruit is one of the most intriguing things I have come across during my stay in Indonesia. It is incredibly divisive – people either love it or hate it. It is often banned in hotels and on public transportation. Apparently it can’t be harvested, so you just have to wait for it to fall. I’ve heard stories of people being killed when the very fruit they were waiting to enjoy fell right on their heads. There are also stories of men running through the forest after hearing the distinctive clunk of a Durian hitting the ground, only to turn and run the other way upon finding a tiger already eating it. Because of all these perils, Durian is very expensive, but it is worth the cost to the many Indonesian durian fanatics. Indeed, Javanese people describe Durian as the “fruit of the Gods.”

Foreigners are more likely to compare it to stinky feet. It is incredibly hard to describe to someone who hasn’t actually tried it. Here is an example of my conversation with Erica, my visitor from America: Is it like melon? No. Is it like fish? Yes. Is it like cheese? Maybe a little. Is it like garlic? Yes. Is it like tomatoes? No. Is it like ice cream? Yes. Is it like bananas? Maybe a little bit. Is it like plain yogurt? No. So what is it actually like?

Well, it starts as a green spiny fruit the size and weight of a watermelon. Duri actually means thorn in Indonesian, and the spikes are surprisingly pointy. You chop it open and find three small sections each made up of two or three seeds surrounded by creamy white flesh. There is surprisingly little meat in the giant, heavy fruit, but what is there is unlike anything else in the world – sweet and pungent, creamy and rich.

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I first tried Durian during training in Bandung last year. While I didn’t think it was horrible, I definitely didn’t like it. At the height of Durian season, I would get to the grocery store and turn right around because of the stench coming from the produce section. But somewhere around the six-month mark here, I inexplicably started to crave it. Something about it’s sharp taste and intense smell appeals to me in the same way as Roquefort cheese, black coffee, lemon juice, and liquorice.

Javanese durian season started a couple of weeks ago, so I was excited to get back home, if only for a few days in the middle of Erica and my travels around Bali and Java. Almost as soon as we showed up at my house, a man rode by on his motorbike with a basket full of durian! I called him over, picked the smallest one, and cracked it open.

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Erica was almost immediately put off by the smell, but she was a good sport and gave it a try. Here’s what she thought:

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I think it may have been the only food in Indonesia she actually didn’t like. Yet. Like so many aspects of like here in Indonesia, durian takes time to grow on you, but then you love it… and you know that when you leave, you won’t ever have quite that experience ever again.