Word of the Day: Pelan Pelan

Indonesian traffic is really something to watch and be a part of. The streets are crowded with cars, motor bikes, food carts, and a pedestrian here and there. Stop signs, as well as traffic lights, are mere suggestions, and the hilly side streets are full of speed bumps and playing children. Cars and motorbikes honk their horn through every intersection and around every corner and people cross the streets with their hands outward telling all the vehicles to stop for them. And they do! I spent the first week awestruck that the streets weren’t full of multi-car pile ups and accident victims. I actually am yet to even see a fender bender or a car in seriously bad shape. Maybe miracles happen every day on the streets of Lampung, but being a serious realist, I can’t accept that theory. I think that the only reason that everyone doesn’t crash and burn in Indonesia is because they all move pelan pelan, or ‘slowly’.

Below is a picture of the parking lot at the English school that I teach at. Notice how full it is.

In roughly five minutes everyone was out of the parking lot. One impatient person could have ruined the entire thing, but working together calmly and slowly meant that everyone got to go home quickly.

Yes, the chaos on the road happens slowly and therefore accidents never happen. It’s awesome and so different from the combis (mini busses) in Peru. Road rules in Peru are also suggestions and people exercised their ownership of the road quickly. I spent much of my time in the bus to and from the university (which was 45 min from my house if everything went smoothly) smooshed, car sick, arguing with the cobrador (the man collecting fare), and sitting still while two drivers decided how to deal with their collision. Even the cobrador worked shouted very quickly at the passengers to get on the bus, pay, and then off the bus. Let’s talk about a stressful commute. Fortunately, I only had class two days a week.

In Bandar Lampung, the entire process is much more pelan pelan and relaxing (except when the guy collecting money tried to take my designer sunglasses – “please let me have them! They look so good on me and the lenses are so good!” “Yeah, they are great. You absolutely cannot have them.” Weirdest bus conversation ever). We get on. Chat about where we’re heading. And then when we arrive the bus stops, and we get outside to sort through our wallets and pay in a comfortable, orderly fashion. Aaaah.

The word pelan pelan has another important meaning for me. There comes a magical moment in foreign language learning where your brain slows down what’s coming into it and the listener starts to distinguish words, inflections, and rhythms in spoken language. After only three weeks in Bandar Lampung, Indonesia, that’s starting to happen with me. That doesn’t mean I understand everything that I’m hearing, but it’s a big step towards being able to carry on a conversation. I’m two weeks into my classes and every day I learn new words and get more confident speaking with my friends. I’m also lucky to have made friends with who I’m convinced are the most patient Indonesians ever. I’m endlessly grateful their support as I’m trying to learn their language.


The Cat’s Meow

Cats are everywhere here in Bandar Lampung, and I am fascinated by them. Also, I’m yet to see a dog.

The most distinguishing characteristic of the Lampungese cats is that most of them are missing all or part of their tails. It’s really strange and I was really nervous that it was because they were victims of abuse. My friends have assured me that they have never seen people cutting off cats’ tails for sport and that it must be something genetic. I’m not exaggerating when I say that 97% of the cats don’t have tails! My readers who know me know that I love cats almost more than I love humans, so imagine how seeing gobs of tailless cats on these streets makes me feel. Like I want to adopt all of them, and give them food, milk, snuggles, and a laser pointer on the wall to play with. I like to think that the feeling is mutual with some of the cats.

Three Lampungese street kitties, each with a different tail length.

On a Saturday night, Amy and I were sitting in the living room reading and a very cute cat just walked in calmly as if it was his house. When we said hello to him, he scurried off, but I’m hoping that he comes back. One of our neighborhood cats is pregnant. VERY

pregnant. Amy and I are very much looking forward to the kittens.

The same Saturday night we spent reading, we also saw the most fascinating cat behavior that we’ve ever seen. We heard this incredible crying from outside and, while we were pretty sure it was a cat, it was so loud and unique that we had to check to make sure that there wasn’t a very unhappy – or dying – human right outside of our gate. We were captivated by these cats.

The orange cat was pressing his face up to the smooshed faced cat wailing and the smooshed face didn’t do a thing to stop it. Yes, I ran back inside to grab a camera and then we sat down to watch the show, and be awesome. Have I mentioned that all of the nightlife has shut down for Ramadan? Even when a person walked by and hissed at them, they barely moved. They finally left each other alone when some our friends pulled up on their motorbikes to hang out. Amy and I quickly had to snap out of Crazy Cat Lady mode and into Normal Lady mode, which was a struggle after what we just witnessed.



24 Hours in Japan

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In transit to Indonesia, I had a 24 hour layover in Tokyo, Japan. I’ll admit it… I saw very little of Japan outside of the bars and train stations, but I had a fabulous time thanks to my old friend, Kei, who spent a year at my high school in Toledo. We hadn’t seen each other in about 7 years, and I feel so lucky to have had someone in Japan to hang out with me on my layover.

This day was my very first experience in Asia. I patted myself on the back quite a bit for making through the airport and train station like a pro before arriving in Shibuya to meet up with Kei and get back to the airport on time to catch my flight to Jakarta, Indonesia. (I did not pat myself on the back for my performance in the airport at Jakarta… that went less smoothly).

While I didn’t get to see much of Japan, I did have my mind blown by how extreme the Japanese cities I saw were. Tall buildings, a sea of people, and bright lights all night. Kei told me that Japan has roughly half the population of the United States, but is the size of only one state, so everyone is very much crammed together. Despite what seemed like should be utter chaos, everything ran with a super impressive efficiency… and very little traffic.

All in all, my snapshot of Japan let me know that I need to spend more than just a day there, however, right now, my checking account would not allow me to spend any more than 24 hours. Japan is EXPENSIVE! The exchange rate is not favorable to US American travelers and I kind of regret asking what it was.

It was blur of a 24 hour stop over. Admittedly, part of the blur is due to alcohol, but a couple thing stand out to me. 1. I very much loved the green tea, hot or cold, that was placed in front of me at every meal. 2. The toilet surprise every time I had to use the restroom. In Japan, I can stay that no two toilets are alike. Some are a hole in the ground that one squats over; some have heated seats; and some have more buttons than one would ever deem necessary for a toilet to have… I did not experiment to see what said buttons did. 3. How accommodating people were to me, the frazzled passerby who didn’t speak one word of Japanese. From stopping me in the airport because I looked lost on my way to immigration (I was) to refunding me the first class train ticket that I accidently bought to the meal voucher they gave me because my flight was delayed that had enough money for me to buy lunch for myself and the two people behind me in line, I felt like any mishap I got into was resolved painlessly and with smiles. 4. Finally, the serenity. The sea of people I mentioned operated like they were part of a ballet (mind you, a ballet that I did not know the choreography to) and that brought a strange serenity to the atmosphere of tall buildings and bright lights. Also, the train to and from the airport went through some parts of the countryside where I saw the greenest fields I’ve ever seen. That statement should be taken seriously since I’ve spent most of my life in the Midwest of the United States, and we sure know a thing or two about fields in that region.

Thank you, Kei, and to everyone else who I had the joy of partying with or meeting in the airport and train station. You all made my stopover in Japan the most memorable layover I’ve had to date, and probably ever will.

After years of expensive education, a car full of books, and anticipation…

If you haven’t heard it, check out Jamie Cullum’s song “Twentysomething”  If you are a twenty-something, like me, it will probably resonate well with you. If you’re a grown up, give it a listen and remember your twenty-something, hopefully fondly. If you’re younger, look forward to making a similar list to the song, and one that has a striking resemblance to George Constanza’s reality check after quitting his job.

“I like sports. Maybe I could be a sports announcer. You know how I’m always making those witty comments during the games?”
“I think they tend to give those jobs to ex-ball players or people with a degree in broadcasting.”
“That’s really not fair.”

You will undoubtedly freak out your parents when you don’t choose to this option: move back home, pay off my loans working nine to five answering phones. Sorry, Mom and Dad.

It’s been exactly one year out of college for me, and when I avoid looking at my monthly bank statements so as to not face the music of my poverty, I question many a choice that I’ve made. But when I think back on all why my bank account is low and what I’ve done with my year, I have different feelings. Not feelings of accomplishment, per say, but definitely satisfaction. Living in the Florida Keys was far from awful and I took some pretty fun vacations: the Caribbean coast of Colombia, California, and the East Coast of the USA.  Sure, one can argue that I’m putting off adulthood, but I’m a twentysomething in a rough economy with a degree in Anthropology, Folklore, and Latin American & Caribbean Studies, so what am I to do?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

That brings me to the point of this post. What do you do with an Anthropology and Folklore degree? People asked me that all through undergrad and I consistently gave the answers my advisors gave me: work in a museum, do contract archaeology, go to graduate school. Sure, graduate school is on my to-do list, but I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on what anthropology and folklore programs train students to do and then how to put those skills to practice. Essentially, I learned how to both participate in and observe cultures #participantobservation, ask insightful questions, dig square holes, turn on my “artifact eyes”, and appreciate both the differences and similarities that people have throughout time and space.

So what do you do with a degree in Anthropology and Folklore? How do you put the skills listed above into practice? I argue that you should move somewhere interesting and make it work. Sure, you may just be scraping by, but you will be doing all the things your expensive education and car full of books have trained you to do.

Scraping by is much more enjoyable with a view.

Last year, that interesting place was South Florida (Key Largo and Miami) and soon, I’ll be completely out of my element in Bandar Lampung, Sumatra, Indonesia. Not using the Latin American and Caribbean Studies component of my degree as much as I did this past year, but I couldn’t be more excited to mix things up a bit!

That’s where English as a Second Language comes in. People have asked me why I’ve decided to branch away from my degree and teach ESL, but I disagree. I don’t know if there’s any other way I could use my degree and be as satisfied with life as I am. With ESL, I can live and work as a community member pretty much anywhere in the world, am given daily opportunities to talk with people and combine teaching them English with me learning about their culture (more on this in a later post. Lessons where students give presentations about their cultures are my favorite and I have some fun stories to share), and place myself in situation to learn another language myself.

So Sumatra, here I come! Well, in about five weeks when I get my work visa…