Doing the Laundry – I can’t wait!

I got my return ticket all finalized today, which means that July 20, 2013, I will be landing in Detroit almost the exact same time that my family will be flying in from our annual vacation to Myrtle Beach. So bummed to be missing out on that one.

Anyways, that means that I have just over one month left in Indonesia. I have already cried a couple of times, for as frustrated as I get a lot of the time here, I do love it. Fighting back tears now.

That being said, I am out of my mind excited to get back to the USA! Yes, I look forward to seeing my family and my friends and being able to eat gravy with every meal if I want, but I bet you have no idea how excited I am to do laundry when I return.

I could probably sell my laundry machine here in an antique store. It’s old.

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When I wash my clothes, I fill up buckets of water to dump in the basin, set it to wash, and wait. When the timer goes off, I pull out this:

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After untangling the mess, I hand rinse everything, and dry it partially in the spinner, which doesn’t always work. The spinner is where doing laundry is really a pain. Sometimes it will spin with a full load, sometimes with only one T-shirt, and sometimes, not at all. Also, when it’s turned on, it sounds like there is a person trapped inside trying to escape. This whole process takes about 2 hours of agony and I hate it. HATE IT.

Mom, I know you love doing my laundry when I’m home for a visit, but please let me savor every load. Or we can do it together. Just please let me experience modern washing machines again, and warm, nice smelling clothes.

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“I’d like a large latte with an extra shot of motivation, please.”

My go-to answer for “What are you going to do when you contract finishes in Indonesia” has always been “go to grad school.” After finishing my applications, when people asked me what I was going to do, I would bury my face in my hands and say “I have no idea” because once my applications were submitted, my say in the matter was taken away and it was up to Goldsmiths University of London, University of Chicago, and Columbia University as to what I was going to do next year. I applied to University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration to study International Social Welfare and specialize in Services to Refugees and Immigrants, University of Columbia’s School of Social Work for the same thing, and Goldsmiths University of London to study Applied Anthropology and Community Development. So far, I’ve heard back from Goldsmiths and YAY I’ve been accepted! Now comes applying for funding…

IMG_2276This brings me to coffee shops. Applying for grad school, and now for funding, involves filling out a sizable amount of forms and doing lots of writing. There are few things that I hate more than paperwork, and there are few places where I am more productive than a coffee shop. The comfortable chairs. The soft indie music. The never failing wifi. The highly caffeinated drinks, which with a little bit of luck, are bottomless. And the patrons reading, writing, or doing other quiet activities. These things combined make for my most productive environment and I take full advantage of every moment in them, sometimes for a full working day. At this critical time of forms and essays, I need a coffee shop bad.

There are a few places here that call themselves coffee shops, but making my rounds (and trying to get work done there) I can say with one hundred percent certainty that they are not what I’m looking for. They are restaurants that also serve coffee. This is why I’m not particularly pleased:

Hours

I love coffee shops for their hours. When it’s 8 or 9 am and I am barely human, I can mosey into a local coffee shop and be given something magical that makes me come alive and gets me going. By the time lunch time comes around, there’s a soup and salad special or a bagel sandwich with my name on it packed with fuel to keep my brain working and fingers typing until my Goal List for the day is all crossed off. Coffee shops, save Starbucks, Bloomington’s Soma, and a hand full of others I’ve sat at, also close early. Like between 6 – 9pm early and on a rare occasion, 10 or 11. This is good because it forces me to get everything done in a limited time frame and then get out of there with my entire evening to enjoy.

Here’s the problem with Indonesian “coffee shop” hours. Waroeng Kopi (literally, Coffee Shop) is my obvious go to because it is less than a minute’s walk from my house. Unfortunately, it opens at noon and closes at 11pm, midnight on Saturdays. NOON? NO! In an ideal situation, I am OUT of the coffee shop, or almost ready to leave, by noon, not just getting in!

Food 

Dining at Waroeng Kopi, or the other options, such as The Coffee, is heavy. Literally. We’re talking greasy burgers, fried rice, huge french fries, creamy pastas, and special at Waroeng Kopi, weird bread dishes. The weird bread dishes are composed of white bread with fillings and toppings ranging from fruit and cream to bolognese sauce and then DEEP FRIED. Where is my seasonal salad? Where is my soup? Where are my bagels and muffins? A deep fried bolognese sandwich makes me want to do nothing except curl into the fetal position, sleep the rest of the day, and snap at Monty when he lays on my stomach, which I normally beg him to do, but now it’s sore. The polar opposite of taking care of business.

Music

I’ve been at Waroeng Kopi for an hour and half. So far, I have been forced to listen to Maroon 5 remixes, Christmas music, Carlie Rae Jepson, one Michael Buble song, and half of a Frank Sinatra tune. I don’t know the current artist is, but she is bumpin’ and bumpin’ is not what I need right now. Where are you Neko Case, Sufjan Stevens, Billie Holiday, and The Avett Brothers? I need you bad.

Other Patrons

Besides the music, Waroeng Kopi is quiet. Quiet because there are rarely other people there.

Other people are a key factor in my equation to being productive because if Mr. Wire Glasses and a Vest looks up from his book to see me laughing out loud at Tumblr, I’m sure that he’s thinking “why is she wasting that $6 latte on Tumblr when she could be writing a paper that will change the field of Anthropology forever?” I also am sure — because I do this — that when the person who has been at the coffee shop all day working’s computer is about to die, they are enraged if they see me hogging an electrical outlet to power my Facebook machine. Their disapproving glares keep me in line and I need them.

Outdoor seating at Waroeng Kopi

A typical afternoon at Waroeng Kopi

The other problem with the patrons at coffee shops here stems from the fact that coffee shops are restaurants, not coffee shops. How am I supposed to work next to a table of loud people who want to know where I’m from, why I’m in Lampung, what I’m doing, where I’m going after the coffee shop, where I was before coming to the coffee shop, and if they can take my picture? Or if I’m at The Coffee, there’s way too high of a chance that the table next to me has a tower of beer. That’s right, in a city where there are exactly 4 bars — none of which are popular hang out joints — you can find beer at “coffee shops”. NO NO NO! The last thing that I need distracting me is alcohol. I want to get my stuff done at the coffee shop, and then move somewhere else to reward myself with beer.

So that’s where we are. I’ve been Waroeng Kopi for nearly three hours, and now it’s storming, so I have even less motivation to walk home as I do to search for and complete scholarship applications. Fortunately, they just put on a acoustic song. Please be an entire album.

Pour House in Bloomington, Indiana, I miss you more than you know. I miss that your baristas knew if I needed an extra shot in my Cafe Miel by the look on my face when I walked through the door. I miss your chocolate chip cookies, made daily from scratch. I miss your chili and white bean soup. I your soft music, soft sofas, and soft lights. And I miss knowing that your profits and my tips always went to a good cause. Please consider opening up a location in Bandar Lampung, Indonesia. I promise that, if you do, I will personally keep you in business.

Dorky Travelers in Myanmar….

This is the last of my Myanmar posts, but I realized that I was leaving my travel buddies out of my blog posts, which I’m going to fix right now.

Myanmar Holiday Part 4: Trekking to Inle Lake

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The three day trek to Inle Lake, as opposed to the hour and a half bus ride, was well worth the extra time and effort. Not only were we walking through beautiful scenery, but we were also able to get a taste of daily life in rural Myanmar as we were trekking through agricultural areas and staying in people’s homes. The trek was organized perfectly to give us a mix of nature and culture, the culture bits being the most interesting for me. It’s difficult to describe the experience with words, so enjoy the photos.

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The scenes that I loved the most were looking out over rolling hills and seeing a patchwork of green, amber, yellow, and red below the brightest blue sky. The red areas were where chili was being laid out to dry. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos that do it justice, but I do have a cool idea for a quilt that I can’t wait to discuss with Mom!

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I love visiting agriculture areas. One thing that I really don’t like about western culture is how separated we are from our food sources… I loved seeing chili farming in action, and being able to munch on fresh chilies while walking. To my surprise, they didn’t set my mouth on fire!

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We started our trek on Christmas Eve and really enjoyed thinking about what our families’ were probably doing back home, and of course getting a bit homesick. I missed spending the holidays with my family, but I will say that these three days were filled with uncountable unique and memorable moments that I’m very thankful to have had.

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Myanmar Holiday Part 2: Yangon

My trip started and ended in Yangon  (previously known as Rangoon), Myanmar’s bustling former capital. The capital moved to Naypwidawin in 2005, but Yangon remains the cultural and economic center of Myanmar as well as its largest city. Yangon was very cool, and while I was a little hesitant to spend a fairly large portion of my trip in the city, I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to leisurely roam around as opposed to rushing around to various landmarks.

Getting Around

Living in Bandar Lampung, Indonesia has given me the highest appreciation for sidewalks, orderly traffic, and silence. I wouldn’t call Yangon silent, but there are no motorbikes and very seldom does someone honk their car horn. There are wide – shady even – sidewalks good for buying anything you could possibly need or just stroll down. I spent most of my time in there just wandering, which was easy to do because it’s laid out on a grid system from when Burma was a British colony. Locals say that there aren’t motorbikes because a powerful man in the military’s car was wrecked by a motorbike, so he outlawed them.

streets and high rises on a main road in Yangonj

streets and apartments on a main road in Yangon

Traffic is definitely more manageable when motorbikes aren’t zooming around between cars and it’s quieter. There were signs throughout the city forbidding honking your horn, but a taxi driver told me that because there are no motorbikes, you seldom have a reason to honk. Zooming around on my motorbike on seemingly lawless streets in Bandar Lampung is brilliant and I love it, but I also love the order that comes from their absence!

Blake’s house could not get the permits to allow me to stay there, and me trying to sneak a few nights there could have meant trouble for a very good friend, so I stayed at a guesthouse downtown right by Sule Pagoda, a 2,200 year old golden pagoda and a very central landmark.

Sunrise from my guesthouse, looking over Sule Paya

Sunrise from my guesthouse, looking over Sule Paya. My room didn’t have windows (saved me $2), but I got to see this while I had breakfast.

During the day, I only got around by walking or bus, and riding the bus meant learning how to read a few Myanmar numbers, which was cool and learning a few key words and locations in Myanmar language, which encouraged people to give me the local fare. On my first day, I paid 200 kyats to get from Sule to Blake’s. By day 2, I was paying 100 kyats, and by my third day of city bus travel, I was only charged 50. My poker face is pretty good, I’ll say. Convincing people that I’m savvy is a skill that I’m happy to have harnessed.

The Golden Land

Myanmar calls itself The Golden Land and you see why after spending a day in Yangon. While Sule is the most central landmark, Shwedagan Paya (Pagoda) is definitely the most important and a major pilgrimage site for Buddhists. It’s the most magical at night when the lights make the gold and gem stones twinkle with the black sky as a backdrop.

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a monk meditating at Shwedagon, and being dwarfed the giant, golden Buddhas

a monk meditating at Shwedagon, and being dwarfed the giant, golden Buddhas

My last destination in Myanmar was the beautiful, giant reclining Buddha at Chaukhtatgyi Paya. It was difficult to find, did not have a government entrance fee, and wasn’t very crowded. Maybe it was because I was so exhausted from walking around Yangon all day, but I was completely mesmerized by the giant Buddha’s calming face. I sat down and stared in his eyes while people around me meditated and nearly an hour went by without me realizing it. At his feet, there is a shrine to Ma Thay who stops rain and grants safe journeys to sailors, so sailor friends and family, know that he’s looking out for you while you’re on the water.

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Shrine to Ma Thay

Shrine to Ma Thay

Good Eats

crispy crepe-like street food stuffed with chic peas, veggies, and spices. Yum.

crispy crepe-like street food stuffed with chic peas, veggies, and spices. Yum.

Being on budget, I ate a lot of Shan Kao Swe (Shan noodles) and Mohinga, which was no problem because they were delicious. Mohinga was especially memorable. It’s a fish broth soup with banana leaves, noodles, some kind of bean, cilantro, lime, and crispy bits sprinkled on top. So delicious and really filling, especially for a soup. The catch with mohinga is that it’s typically served for breakfast and past 11am, it gets really challenging to find. “Mohinga sheela” (do you have mohinga?) was a key phrase that I mastered very early in my trip.

mmm mohinga

mmm mohinga

Besides street food, though, I was blown away by the cool dining options in Yangon! Delicious international food as reasonable prices was a plenty. A few highlights were going out for afternoon tea, complete with mini cheeseburgers, mini     quiches, cakes, scones, etc. and then Mexican. You heard me, Mexican food in Yangon. By any standards, my pork burrito was phenomenal. Living in a more traditional Asian city, I’m not dazzled by fried rice, fried noodles, and curried whatever. When I’m outside of Bandar Lampung, I want what I miss and can’t get in Bandar Lampung. Burritos, guacamole, and chili con queso definitely fall in that category… and imagine my surprise to find them all in Yangon.

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Yangon pretty much shuts down at 9pm. Except Chinatown, which remains hopping ‘til the very wee hours, so head down there for a good time where the Myanmar Beer and spirits flow like water and food to lesson your hangover – or cause you to wake up with food poisoning, as it did my second night out in Chinatown.

pulled off the bottle cap, won 1000 kyats! (about a dollar)

pulled off the bottle cap, won 1000 kyats! (about a dollar)

A Glimpse into Myanmar History

No photos from this moment, but I still have to share. Wandering around Yangon by myself, I found a gallery that showcases contemporary Myanmar art on the first floor and antique images on the second. A man there showed me their collected, which consisted of socialist propaganda posters from the 1950s, original movie  posters, old maps of Burma, paintings depicting Burmese history and Buddhist stories, as well as original photographs. I saw letters written to General Aung Sung, father of national hero, leader of the National League of Democracy, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung Sung Suu Kyi. Newspaper reports from his assassination and family photographs from when Aung Sung Suu Kyi was a child. I spent about an hour with this man and it was really special. I felt that I had gotten more out of it than a visit to any of the museums, which have a government fee. They have plans to open up a museum near Mount Popa.

The antique shops in Yangon were also treasure troves. This one, housing old cars, carriages, and beautiful Buddhist figures and furniture was particularly fun to explore… though I was constantly fearful of bumping something and disaster following.

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I understand wanting to get out cities when you travel and into the countryside and small villages, but please, when you go Myanmar, give Yangon the time it deserves. It’s a city with endless avenues to explore and wonderful people.

Being ‘Cousin Mary’ is Awesome

My cousins have been having kids and our already big family is growing! This is awesome because the children that my cousins are producing are gorgeous, hilarious, well-behaved, brilliant little ones whom I adore… and I’m not a kid person.

Having a ton of fun at the beach with Grandma

So to these guys, I’m ‘Cousin Mary’ and I love it.

My mom is Crazy Aunt Diane, which, as you can see, is also a very fun role!

I have family in Indonesia who live in Jakarta. We’re related by marriage, but refer to each other as cousins and I feel so lucky that they are in Indonesia. I spent Thanksgiving with them and some other expat families and it was a great weekend to be Cousin Mary with these two.

 

Lot’s of playing, drawing, and nail painting was done this weekend and it was very fun. Sarah Maria was scoring major points by noticing that all my new outfits were perfectly color coordinated. “Mary, you look so beautiful in your new work outfit. Even your shoes match your shirt!” Sarah Maria also taught me a new word in Bahasa: panjir, flood. Every time it rained, we had to go on panjir watch because Jakarta, especially their neighborhood  of Kemang, floods like nothing else I’ve ever seen!

I get especially homesick over the holidays when I think about all the delicious food that my family is eating and all the time they are spending together. I also wish that I could be in the States more to watch my cousins’ gorgeous children grow up, because it really happens fast. This Thanksgiving, I had a lot to be thankful for, but a big one was that I had John, Kati, Sarah Maria, and Sofia to spend Thanksgiving with and that whenever I want I can head over there for a few days of being ‘Cousin Mary.’

Have you eaten? and other basa basi…

If it’s before 11:00am, probably not. I don’t like to eat breakfast. I never have. The only times that I have regularly eaten breakfast was when I was a victim of mountain hunger, and therefore hangry (hungry-angry) all the time. I simply like to start my day with two of my favorite vices: a cup of coffee and a cigarette. That being said, I will never turn down biscuits and gravy, and I love finding occasions to go out for brunch. “I’ll take another Bloody Mary, please.”  After breakfast, I’m good until lunch. After brunch, my day is over. Do I ever love lunch, though! I am a big fan of big hearty lunches between 12pm and 2pm. Very rarely, I’ll snack between lunch and dinner. Very rarely. I’ll do dinner around 8pm or 9pm, maybe have a snack later on, and then I head to bed feeling satisfied, but not over stuffed. I am as regular of an eater as one could ask for, but that doesn’t stop the same people from asking me the same question day after day.

Never in my life have I been asked such a mundane question so frequently. Whenever I go into work, I am asked by at least ten people if I’ve eaten and if the answer is no, I am urged by those same ten people to eat. Unlike in the US, this question is never followed by an offering of food or invitation to lunch. I simply just answer yes or not yet and they walk away. This, among other things, has been a major point of culture shock for me.

This may seem like a really small Indonesian cultural thing to get bent out of shape over, but oh trust me, it’s making me mad.

 I am a human. I need food to survive and when I am hungry, I am completely capable of obtaining food.

Ask anyone who I’ve been on a road trip, or any trip for that matter, what it’s like to be around me when I’m hungry. I turn into the most unbearable hangry shogre (she-ogre). It’s bad. My dad and younger brother, Mike, love recounting stories of our trip to the Dominican Republic in 2009. I had lived there for 5 months by the time they came to visit, and on top of not following my advice on how we should navigate the country, they didn’t seem to make eating a priority. It took a few days before Dad learned to throw food at me, and I will calm down. Annoying things might still be happening, but I’m much less likely to go off on someone when I have a full stomach. Nobody likes being hungry. NOBODY. Throughout time and space, people have tried to find a way to feed the world, because being hungry is absolutely miserable.

My close friends, Caitlin and Jill, marching to dinner at an archaeological work site. Can you feel their hanger?

Not everyone gets hangry through. Most of my friends do, and I love them for that quirk. We all understand each other, and we’re all well fed. Mike, however, doesn’t get the slightest bit hangry. A while back we were talking about this phenomenon and I gave my “being hungry is the worst feeling in the world and cause for anger” argument. Mike responded with, “Sure, no one likes being hungry, but hunger isn’t an excuse to be mean to the people you love, Mary!” Bingo. I don’t want to mean to the people I care about. Trust me, Indonesia, I’ll keep my belly full, because I really hate being a shogre.

If I’m not hungry, few things irk me more than being pressured to eat.

Have you ever had the most exquisite meal in front of you that you just couldn’t get enough of us? I’ll bet you could’ve gotten just enough of it, and if you were me, you would have stopped eating at the precise moment that you knew. I don’t eat the ends of my sandwiches. EVER. Because I know when to leave it alone and not let too much of a good thing become a bad thing. And because sandwich ends are just gross.

Near the end of a perfect meal, you must recognize when you are only one bite away from a belly ache. And that’s when you should stop eating. That bite might as well be being handed to you by a serpent. I know the times that I’ve taken the forbidden bite, I’ve been punished with a belly ache and expanded waist line so severe that it clouds all memories of how happy I was for most of the meal. I know better now. I always shoo that serpent away and not a single bite early.

This was a perfect meal to practice self control on.

At altitude, it is especially dangerous to over indulge because one digests food at a much slower rate. That’s one of the reasons why people drink coca tea and chew coca leaves in the Andean highlands: it helps in the digestion process. Coastal Peruvians will drill into your head before you go into the highlands you should “caminar despacito, comer poquito, y dormir solito!” “walk slowly, eat only a little, and sleep alone!” Unfortunately, as Peruvian food is to die for. My dad came to visit me when I spent a semester in Lima, Peru in 2010, and a trip to Peru isn’t complete without going to Cusco. He had been adhering really well to our friendly coastal advice and he loved the bit of folklore that our tour guide gave us about how everyone has a guinea pig inside them and if you overfeed it, it will get angry. All that being understood, Dad lost all control at a lunch buffet featuring many different ways to enjoy alpaca meat, and did he ever overfeed his guinea pig. I have never seen my father more uncomfortable than he was later that night on our ten hour bus trip to Arequipa, and I hope I never see him that uncomfortable again. Use this as a cautionary tale the next time you think about giving in to gluttony.

Pressuring me to eat when I’m not hungry is offering me a belly ache and the opportunity to hate food. Peer pressure is dangerous in any arena and friends don’t let friends hate food. Please, Indonesia, when I say I’m not hungry, I mean it…. unless you’re offering me pempek or gourami crackers. I really just don’t like those.

Why should anyone care whether or not I’ve eaten?

Have you eaten is a boring question with a boring answer. I used to think of it as a demonstration of concern to make sure that I wasn’t hungry and was feeling OK, but now it feels nosey and like people are digging for reasons to talk. At work. Where I don’t really want to talk, I just want to get my work done. Other weird mundane questions that I’m burdened with are

“Why did you paint your nails that color?” Because it looked good with the clothes I want to wear this week.

“Did you drive your motorbike to work today?” Yes. That’s why I’m carrying my helmet.

 “Why didn’t Amy come to work the same time as you?” Because Amy starts later than me.

 “Do you have a today class?” Of course. Would I be here if I didn’t?

“Did your cat eat today?”  Yes.

*Just a side note. Monty my look sweet and quiet, but he meows like a dying dragon when he’s hungry. It’s in everyone’s best interest to keep his food bowl full.

 “Did you shower today or is your hair wet because you went swimming?” I showered.

Boring questions with boring answers that I’m not convinced anyone really cares to know. I can’t speak for all of western culture, but I really miss the way people in the United States frankly don’t give a sh*t about one’s day to day doings and reserve questions and conversations, especially at work, for interesting events.

My conversations with my co-workers feel like George Costanza’s pitch of “a show about nothing” to NBC

“Nothing happens!”

George: What did you do this morning?

NBC: I woke up, had a cup of coffee, read the paper, and came to work.

George: There! That would be a show!

NBC: Why would anyone watch that?

George: Because it’s on TV!

NBC: Not yet it isn’t….

Immediately after drafting this post, I went to my Bahasa Indonesia class and asked my teacher, Irul, if he could offer any explanation of this behavior. As it turns out, in Indonesia, it’s rude not talk, but on most days nothing noteworthy is happening, so they fill silence with really boring conversations. Also, Indonesians know this is boring stuff and they don’t really care about the answer, or elaborating on the conversation, but it’s friendly just to ask and equivalent to saying “hello”. Confirmation that people who ask these questions really don’t care what my answer is makes being interrupted to answer a pointless question even more annoying, because it turns out that, as suspected, they really don’t give a sh*t. There is even a word for these types of questions. Basa basi: meaningless conversations only to be polite.

Irul told me that in the past, a teacher from the States went off on somebody because he asked “why is your motorbike dirty?” This absolutely cracked me up and made me feel a bit validated that I’m not the only one who gets irritated by basa basi. My dictionary translates basa basi as “courtesy questions”, but as far as I am concerned, it’s only a courtesy to ask someone if they’ve eaten if it’s followed by an invitation to dine together, and pointing out that someone’s motorbike is dirty is only courteous if the person who asks is offering to wash it as a favor.