20 February 2013

Another Fresh Start.

Gong Xi Fa Cai! | Selamat Tahun Baru Imlek! | Happy Chinese New Year! (2564) 

While I am not Chinese and this is my first time celebrating Imlek, I do feel like I tapped the refresh button in my life and have started another new year. In the last week, I have had a lot of time to reflect, learn more about my co-workers, and meet new people. Thus, February is treating me very well. 

The start of the Year of the Snake was 10 days ago on 10 February, but the Chinese in Pontianak have kept the party going strong. The school's principal, Bu Agnes, extended our five-day vacation to ten days. And it was glorious. The students and teachers returned to school this past Monday being a bit more relaxed and ready to tackle the rest of February. I had a lesson plan meeting with my co-teacher, which went very well. So, things seem like they are on the up and up. I had also just returned from an incredible trip to Medan (more on that in my next post). And upon my return, I visited the houses of co-workers and friends to celebrate the new year, which was a good experience. 

Esther and I clasp our hands to form pai. Pai is a Chinese greeting used to show respect. It is used during the Chinese new year when people greet one another with Gong Xi Fa Cai, or Gong Xi Gong Xi
A friend and I went to Mega Mall, one of the major malls in the city, for dinner last night and we caught a dance performance celebrating the new year. This was our view from the second floor. 

At the end of the performance, all of the dancers performed together. 

This is an ang pao. Ang pao is Mandarin for red envelope. During house visits for the Chinese new year, children receive an ang pao with money. The picture above is of an ang pao given during a wedding. The characters are different for a new year ang pao. 

Kue keranjang (Basket cake) is a traditional dessert eaten during the Chinese New Year. It's actually not supposed to be eaten until Cap Go Meh, a celebration which culminates the end of the new year celebrations. At my school, each teacher received two cakes. Freshly made, these cakes had not solidified yet and were very elastic. They were also very sweet. Since I arrived in Indonesia, I have not eaten much food with a lot of sugar and have become sensitive to sugary foods. So, I couldn't eat the cakes by myself and shared it with people in my community and my good friends outside of school. One morning, I had a small piece of fried kue keranjang, which tastes better than the un-fried version. 

As I stated previously, upon my return from Medan, I went on several house visits. The visits are called pai cia in Mandarin. We did five houses in one day! At each house, I ate delicious pastries. I had pastries with shrimp, fried onion sticks, langsat, durian cookies, durian cake, and a pastry with pineapple on the inside. The latter, which is called nastar, was my favorite. Bu Hui Hui, one of the vice principals, gave me a bag of nastar to take home. (Thank you Bu!) I had handfuls of it at every house. I also had my first Coke and Pepsi drinks in a long time. I had to pace my consumption at each house because I knew we had more places to visit. 

Bu Yanti hopped on the back of Bu Hui Hui's motorcycle as we all headed to another house. 

Bu Loli, the Biology teacher, is ready to go. 

Our last house on one day was Bu Hui Hui's house. I am in between her two sons, Niko and Peter. Her husband's parents are to my left, she is on my right, along with three staff members from our school. 

The students at my school made many red and yellow lanterns to celebrate the new year. 
They are currently hanging all over the school. 

We did some of the visits on Valentine's Day, and while the new year overshadowed the day for love, some of my co-workers and I got to talking about the holiday. More specifically, some of the younger male staff members wanted to know about my past relationships, if I was single or dating someone, and because I admitted that I was single, if I ever felt lonely. I explained my past relationships without going into much detail and told them that being single was not an issue for me. I told them that I never really felt lonely because I had books to read, I was active in the community at school, and I had girlfriends to hang with. Then, Billy, the driver, starting singing Michael Jackson's You Are Not Alone, and everyone in the car started laughing. He's right. I am never alone in Indonesia until I enter my house!  

On Fridays, I volunteer at the American Corner and lead the Speaking Club. On 1 February, we talked about introductions, and this past Friday, we talked about sports. I surprised myself when I realized how much I knew about American football. 

Some questions from the general American introduction. 

The very personal questions from the Indonesian introduction. The questions in boxes are a no-go for an American during a first encounter. (I wrote a lot about this in my Mau ke Mana, Miss? post.) 

Two Speaking Club members working together for the activity. 

Group photo at the end of the session. 

On 2 February, we had a yearbook photo shoot. 

One Saturday afternoon, I attended a futsal (Indonesian soccer) match with my students. 
I had fun cheering for our school. They won the match 3-1. 

Cheerleaders for our school's futsal team. 

The tail-end of the rainy season. 
The Fulbright Commission in Indonesia (AMINEF - American Indonesian Exchange Foundation) holds a national creative English competition, WORDS (no one knows what this acronym means anymore…), for the students at participating schools. The prompt for this year's competition is What can the youth of Indonesia teach the world? First, the ETAs have a local competition so that they can send a student to the national competition. I held my local WORDS competition on 16 February. I want to say that, overall, the process from start to finish, was "smooth." I spoke to all the 10th and 11th graders about the competition (the 12th graders are not eligible to compete) about a month and a half ago. Fourteen students expressed their interest and signed up. Seven showed up to the technical meeting. Two dropped out weeks before the competition. One dropped out due to the Chinese new year. And another withdrew TEN MINUTES before the competition via Twitter. So, if you kept up with the math, then you calculated three participants remaining. I was totally fine with it. That's the environment here - expected the unexpected. All I needed was one winner, anyway. Then, five minutes before starting the competition, I received a text from one student, Frida, who had dropped out due to the holiday, stating that she wanted to compete again. I told her to hurry up because we were starting soon. 

The competition was over in less than 30 minutes. The students performed a traditional dance, talked about discrimination in Indonesia, talked about and cooked a traditional meal, and the love they had for their country. (Frida came just in time for her performance.) The winner, Septrani, talked about rujak, a traditional meal made of peanut sauce, cucumbers, and green leafy vegetables. She and I will go to Jakarta in March for the national competition, which is sure to be an amazing experience for her and the other students. So, congratulations Miss Septrani! 

Frida gives her speech about her love for Indonesia. 

Septrani and Frida - I treated the contestants to lunch at a nearby restaurant. 

17 February 2013

January Days.

Returning from my vacation in Jogja was a little rough because I didn't want it to end and I had to start the beginning of the end of my grant. But I could not really think about this because as soon as I returned to my site, I went on a three-day retreat with the 11th graders from my school to Nyarumkop, a town three hours north of Pontianak. My school is Christian, so most of the sessions at the retreat included readings from the bible and singing gospel songs. During one of the sessions, the teachers split the students by gender and discussed dating. They talked about the appropriate age for dating, what you can and cannot do during courting, etc. But there was no discussion about sex. They practically danced around the topic. Sex is definitely taboo, and sex education is not included in most curricula here. As I was beginning to wonder more about this, a New York Times article shed some light on the situation. Outside of the sessions, we had a bonding activity in the mountains, which was a series of obstacles so that the students could accumulate points. We also had a great bonfire to close the trip. 
Two teachers and I take a picture on the balcony of our guesthouse.

The view from the balcony with the tip of Gunung Poteng
(Poteng Mountain) in the back right. 

First obstacle of the day. 

The students had to comb through wet leaves and other
gooey things to collect coins. 

They also had to crawl through muddy water. 

It was very entertaining!

The students passed flour over their heads. 

Then they washed off in a stream. 

My plan was to stand on the side and watch them, but then the vice-principal started chucking water at me and I got soaked. So, I got in and we took this picture. In Indonesia, people go into the water fully-clothed unless they are in an area with tourists, where it is more appropriate to wear bathing suits/bikinis. 
This was my first bonfire, and it was a lot of fun. We ate corn on the cob and sang songs. I do not have a video of it, but I sang a popular Indonesian song called Separuh Aku by the band Noah. My performance was well received by the students and teachers. Now, back at school, the 11th graders start singing the song's chorus whenever I walk by them. 
On our way back to Pontianak, we stopped by the beach.

On 12 January, Pak (Mr.) Yudi, one of the music teachers at my school, had a wedding. The other teachers and I performed a song at his ceremony. Prior to the wedding, we practiced a total of three times…. Indonesians are very good at cutting it close. But the performance was really good. 
We are such a great school family!

Pak Yudi's wedding reception - I have been to two wedding receptions here in Indonesia and they have turned out the same way: food is served buffet style and you eat to your heart's desire. Then, once you're full and ready to leave, you walk onto a stage where the bride, groom, and their parents are seated to shake their hands. 
Exhibit A: These people have eaten and have decided it's time to go. 
Sometimes, people will stop to take a picture. 

My relationship with my co-teacher is the hit-and-miss type. Sometimes we are on the same page and can work well together, and other times he leaves me in the dust where I am left trying to figure out what he's going to teach in class, how he's going to do it, and if he is upset with me about something. We butted heads a lot last semester because he did not want to work with me. So, I suggested we have a meeting with the principal so that she could explain my role to him and how important it was for us to work together. After the meeting, lesson planning was a smoother process and the semester ended well. This semester it seems like he wants to backtrack and do his own thing. So, I have to constantly remind him that we need to work together for each lesson. I would handle this situation easily in the U.S. It's just that here, for the most part, the culture is passive aggressive. And sometimes, I feel like I'm walking on eggshells around this man. I have tried to create a relationship where we can provide each other with feedback and not take things as a personal attack. While communication between us has improved, I have realized that 1) I always need to be prepared, 2) I should expect the unexpected, and 3) I am here to support him and our students to the best of my abilities. I could have worked with the 11th graders and their teacher, who seems more than willing and eager to work with me, but I have learned most of my 10th graders' names and enjoy working with them.   
A picture with some students from the adjacent junior high school. 

On the night of 16 January, I was walking back to my house after refilling my phone with minutes when three girls on a motorcycle pulled up to a stop in front of me. They wanted to know my name, where I lived, why I was in Indonesia, etc - the usual set of questions. They wanted to practice English with me, so I waited for them while they drove one girl home. They came back with two other girls, and all five of us sat on a bench under a street light on the side of the road. We talked and talked and talked. The girls didn't know enough English to have a conversation that made sense to any of us so we spoke in Indonesian. I thought they were all sisters because that's what they kept telling me. But it turns out that they are all cousins. So, I had a mini lesson about the difference between the definition of sister and cousin. In Indonesia, a woman will usually call her female cousin her sister. 

Then, all of a sudden they were all in a band and desperately needed my help for creating a band name. I was getting tired, couldn't think straight, and needed more time. But they quickly came up with a name and decided on 7 Icons. (There are two other cousins.) It had a ring to it and I gave them the thumbs up for my approval. It was getting late and I told them that their parents might be worried about them and that they should go home. I only remember one girl's name, Fuza. So, I usually refer to them as the 7 Icons. I enjoyed the spontaneous encounter and talking to them as we sat on the bench. So, I gave you the whole story. The Icons come to my house from time to time and are an entertaining bunch. 
They usually come to my house while I'm napping and I can't focus at all so I have to turn them away. However, I let them into my house one day, and just one photo turns into a photo shoot. 

Fuza is in the striped green and pink sweater. 

January 24th was the Prophet Mohammad's birthday (Maulid Nabi Mohammad). So, due to the Islamic holiday, I had the day off. My plan was to stay home, but some time in the early afternoon I received a phone call from Devina. Devina is a student friend of mine. I met her in December and she's been to my house for English lessons. Her mother wanted to cook a meal for me. So, they picked me up and we went to the market place. 

A while ago, I mentioned to Devina's mother that I really liked crab. So, we had to get crab. 

Devina is allergic to crab, so her mother purchased some fish. 

It turns out that Devina's mother wasn't really sure about how to cook crab and that all of it was for me to eat. So, I stood beside her in the kitchen and let her know when the crab was ready. They (Devina's mother and brother) also weren't sure about how to eat the body of the crab, so I showed them my approach to eating it, which was funny. We also had a delicious side of shrimp and green and red tomatoes in spicy sauce. 
After dinner with Devina's family, I met up with Sofia, my yoga buddy, for karaoke. Karaoke in Indonesia is not what I expected at all. I thought we would be singing on a stage in front of a crowd at a restaurant or some other venue. But here in Pontianak, people rent a room with their friends and sing songs from the comfort of a couch. You can also order food and drinks, which are delivered to your room. I guess it's karaoke with class. 
On 26 January, I was a cafe that I patronize frequently enjoying a coconut and browsing the web when one of the staff members started waving a newspaper in front of my face and said, "Look, it's Chous!" (The guys at this cafe can't pronounce my entire name so they call me Chous. It sounds like shoes.) I had been interviewed by some student writers for the Pontianak Post a few days before and completely forgot about it. So, it was pretty cool to see my face in an Indonesian newspaper. The interview was about the Fulbright Program in the U.S., the Fulbright Commission here in Indonesia, my role here and how I prepared for it, and my thoughts on the future of Indonesia. People always want to know my thoughts on the latter. I finally got a hold of the paper later in the week and cut out my article so I can have it forever! :)
During Friday evenings, some of the students play volleyball in the courtyard. 
I decided to join them one day and got in some great serves, hits, and digs. 

Doesn't this remind you of the sit-up tests you had to do in gym class?

One of the teachers at my school is Dayak (one of the indigenous ethnic groups in West Borneo), and always talked to me about eating snake and how it gives her smooth skin. (I haven't done my research to verify or reject the latter.) So, I thought I would try it. On the last day of January, I ate delicious snake, iguana, and turtle for dinner. It was quite the culinary adventure. Snake was the best. It tasted like meaty fish. The iguana, doused in a delicious and spicy curry sauce, was a bit tough, and the turtle meat was nothing to rave about. It kind of tasted like ham. The meal was memorable and I am very glad I branched out and tried it.