The Snake Mystery

Pusing is my absolute favorite word in Bahasa Indonesia. It means “dizzy from confusion”. I find myself often dizzy with confusion here. When I first arrived, I asked a ton of questions and was trying to figure it all out. The answer I most often got was “because this is Indonesia”, which is not a satisfying answer at all and would send me into a deeper state of pusing and so now I’ve learned to just roll with things and I’ve been able to recognize some patterns and come up with rules for how things are run here.

So, I bet you asking why I titled this post The Snake Mystery. A few days ago, while I was just hanging out at home with Monters drinking coffee and trying to motivate myself to go to work, I noticed this”

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A snake skin hanging over the door to the laundry room/ Monty’s bathroom. Pusing. I stared at it for a little bit in utter confusion wondering if it had been there the entire time we’ve lived in that house and I’ve just never noticed; or if someone hung it there for whatever reason because “this is Indonesia”; or if a snake had just shed its skin on my door frame perfectly balanced and therefore his skin was left to hang. There were a few ants walking towards it and it was soft to touch, so I’m thinking that it’s fresh and hasn’t been there the entire time.

I left for work and forgot about it. I hadn’t seen much of Amy for a couple days (maybe she hung it there?) and I forgot to ask her about it work. Then, the morning after I discovered it, we were eating breakfast and I just casually asked “hey, do you know anything about the snake skin hanging on the door frame?” She gave me the same speechless look that we give our Indonesian friends when the catch us off guard with a question about the ghosts that apparently live in our durian tree. So I pointed to the dangling snake skin and she was just as shocked and surprised and confused as me.

So apparently we have a snake living in our house somewhere. We haven’t moved the snake skin because we are so fascinated by its placement and the mystery surrounding it. We’ve also decided that we’re not going to make our resident snake leave and we are happy to share our home with him. That being said, we’d like him to show himself, because for now, he’s just a little phantom snake, and we’re always on the lookout.

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The Java Jive

For as frequently as I travel to Java, it rarely ends end up in blog, so I’m changing that now and am going to combine months of visits to the island of Java into one post.

Situated in Bandar Lampung, I’m pretty close to Java. The bus/ferry option takes about 12 hours, but by flight, I am only 30 minutes to Jakarta.

This is awesome because I have some family who live there and the night life in Jakarta is amazing. Unfortunately the city itself is famously congested and spread out. Jakarta is largest city in Southeast Asia and the entire metropolitan area makes it the second largest metropolitan area in the world. Getting anywhere means sitting in a cab for roughly an hour – often times more – which can be infuriating if you don’t possess the virtue patience. Macet, the Indonesian word for traffic jam, is one you learn instantly on arrival, and there are three types: Macet Normal, Macet Besar (big traffic jam) and Macet Total. It varies on time of day and destination. One Friday, I spent two hours getting from the airport to a hotel in central Jakarta, but then on Monday morning, it only took me 30 minutes to get back to the airport. Who knew.

view of Jakarta from a hotel room in the city center

view of Jakarta from a hotel room in the city center

Not quite the charm of colonial plazas in Latin America, but I love the tandem bikes with matching hats!

Not quite the charm of colonial plazas in Latin America, but I love the tandem bikes with matching hats!

Shanghai Blue, a 1920s Cantonese restaurant. Very cool. Very yummy. One of my favorite restaurants in the world.

Shanghai Blue, a 1920s Cantonese restaurant. Very cool. Very yummy. One of my favorite restaurants in the world.

 

Fortunately, escaping the city is fairly easy. One hour (and 90 cents) will land you in Bogor. Bogor, while the city itself isn’t too much to look at, has a stunning botanical garden. Besides being tropical and beautiful, this is really special because local parks, green spaces, and plazas didn’t really catch on here like they did in Europe, the USA, and Latin America, so once we found this place, it was very easy to spend all day leisurely strolling about and leaving was very difficult.

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Lots of Indonesians head to West Java to relax for the weekend and it’s very easy to see why. That being said, without a car getting around can be challenging. Wanting to completely escape the city for a few days, a friend and I took off for Situ Gunung National Park to take refuge by a lake and hike to a waterfall. It looks very close on the map

In Cisaat, West Java trying to get to Situ Gunung. We didn't want to be separated because it was night, we were in a strange place, and only one of us spoke Bahasa, so the police looked the other way as both of us got on one motorbike (illegal). The sign in the background reads "Do you want to die?"

In Cisaat, West Java trying to get to Situ Gunung. We didn’t want to be separated because it was night, we were in a strange place, and only one of us spoke Bahasa, so the police looked the other way as both of us got on one motorbike (illegal). The sign in the background reads “Do you want to die?”

Getting there was an adventure that we did not anticipate and no one seemed to be able to give us reliable information on how to get there or how long it would take. From Jakarta, someone said the total journey would take four hours. When we were on a small local bus, almost at the drop off city to transfer to a motor bike, we were told that it would be an additional four hours and that we would be lucky to arrive before the early morning. Fortunately, that person was wrong and, while it was dark when we arrived, it wasn’t early morning, or even late at night.

The second we settled into our little cabin by the lake, though, we knew the journey was worth it even just for a night and leisurely morning and afternoon. Besides the birds, frogs, and insects, it was dead silent and while walking around, our only light was from the moon. We found a group of campers on a company camping trip, which was very fortunate because they had food and we had none and we got to enjoy a proper camp fire jam session.

We slept through the sunrise, which was unfortunate because that’s when the lake is supposed to be at most beautiful and set off to find the waterfall. It was beautiful, refreshing, worth the trouble, and very difficult to leave.
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The journey back wasn’t nearly as stressful – until we got to Bogor and no one wanted to tell us how to get back to the train station. One daring taxi driver even tried to tell us that the station was closed – liar – and that he would be happy to drive us back to Jakarta. I’m sure he would have been happy, because that would have cost us a fortune. Arriving in Jakarta a two hours later, by train, was very satisfying since we had just done what at least five people told us would be impossible. We were tempted to go back and find the taxi driver who said that the train station was closed and say “see!”, but we chose cocktails instead.

Java is a really intriguing island, home to the Borobudur archaeological zone, lava rivers, the highest concentration of Indonesian people, and most of the Dutch leftovers from the colonial period. I haven’t been able to explore the island enough and I probably won’t, which is a frustrating reality of living and working in such a large and fascinating country and mostly only having the weekends to travel. It’s been an important island in my experience here thus far though and I’m sure that I will continue to get to know Java better in the coming months.

Word of the Day: Banjir

I can’t think of a single person who isn’t ready for the rainy season to be over. Amy and I rode out a doozy of a storm at Yen and Laurent’s house on Thursday and on the drive home, we passed down trees and power lines. When we arrived back at home, the main floor of our house was full of water and we spent the better part of the evening sweeping and mopping it out. That brings me to my word of the day: banjir (flood).

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We were fortunate, though. We are wet and there are little, dirty cat prints on all the tables and counters because Monty is trying to avoid walking on the floor, but we are safe and nothing was ruined. Leigh has a little geyser bubbling up from his floor, but he too is safe. Yen and Laurent are completely dry. Other people were less fortunate and had house flooding as high as a meter. I cannot imagine the amount of motorbikes, cars, and housewares that have been ruined, which will cause considerable economic hardship in order to replace for the people here. Yesterday at school, our power is being run by generator and our internet is down, making conducting classes challenging as our coursework is web based. Teluk Betung, an district in Bandar Lampung, was completely flooded on Thursday killing three. I have not heard any more numbers for injuries or fatalities in other areas, but I’m sure that there are more than three in Bandar Lampung. It really puts things in perspective and is heartbreaking to think that while we were snuggled up in Yen’s cozy bed watching How I Met Your Mother, people were dying.

Jakarta has experienced terrible flooding in the past week leaving at least 30 dead and roughly 100,000 forced to leave their homes.

I am sure that when the water clears out, the destruction left behind will seem irreparable and that all of Indonesia will be suffering consequences from the floods, considering the damage done to the capital. I will keep you posted on relief efforts.

It hasn’t started raining yet today. The pattern has been sunny mornings and then from mid-afternoon through the night nonstop rain. Hopefully, it lets up soon.

To follow news coverage on the flood in Jakarta and Bandar Lampung, check out these websites

Antara News

Jakarta Globe

IRIN Asia

To learn more about flooding as a result of rising sea levels and the effects it has, visit this website:Global Flood Map

 

“I’d like one order of Chevon’s Lesticles” … said no one ever.

Some signs and menus from Myanmar that cracked me up… Enjoy.

This is pronounced POOCHI, right? Wrong.

This is pronounced POOCHI, right? Wrong.

 

 

 

I'd like some Freedom Fries with my Liberty Sweets please

I’d like some Freedom Fries with my Liberty Sweets please

This entire menu is doozy from the Holiday Inn motif to the Texas BBQ, but scroll down past the Dove and Sparrow options to number 15...

This entire menu is doozy from the Holiday Inn motif to the Texas BBQ, but scroll down past the Dove and Sparrow options to number 15…

Unfortunately, you can only watch one bird

Unfortunately, you can only watch one bird

I would like the snake head soup, I mean potion,  please.

I would like the snake head soup, I mean potion, please.

What exactly are we rejecting?

What exactly are we rejecting?

Do you L<3ve fried rice? I'm pretty tired of it...

Do you L<3ve fried rice? I’m honestly pretty tired of it…

All you need is love. DER!

All you need is love. DER!

I was walking with a ghost

The paranormal activity in Indonesia is unlike anything that I’ve ever experienced. There’s no escaping the presence of religion, ghosts, and psychics and my black-and-white, science driven logic is really struggling to get a good grasp on what exactly is going on here. I’m not going to touch religion, but here’s what I’ve worked out so far with the ghosts and the psychics.

Ghosts

Ghosts are not spirits of dead people, but separate beings. Certain ghosts are recognizable, but you really don’t want to see any. People who can see them can see them everywhere (I cannot) and apparently, our old house was riddled with them. Ghosts especially like to spend time in the trees. One student told me that after seeing a ghost in his grandmother’s tree, she immediately cut it down. Another student expressed that they struggle with the tree issue because ghosts live in the trees and that’s bad for people, but if you cut down the trees, it’s bad for the environment.

This picture is mostly up to show off last night's sunset, but do you see anything hanging out in our trees?

This picture is mostly up to show off last night’s sunset, but do you see anything hanging out in our trees?

Psychics

The police system here is pretty inefficient. Thank you, corruption. That being said, when you need to get to the bottom of something, you take it to your trusted paranormal specialist. This became especially relevant to me a couple of weeks ago when $200.00 USD went missing. Two different psychics said that that it was a female who is close to me. Amy is not a suspect. But who knows. Maybe he had a clear vision. Maybe it was made up. But either way, I’m out $200.00 and there’s nothing that can really be done about it.

The ghosts and the psychics really remind me that I’m operating in culture extremely different from the United States. It’s easy to forget that sometimes. You see a lot of traditional Indonesian clothing, but you see a lot of jeans and t-shirts too. I work in an English school, so I often hear these accounts from English speakers. I definitely have never heard someone speak so definitely about paranormal activity in English before I came here. Other moments that remind me how far away I am from home, geographically and culturally, are riding past the traditional markets being set up in the wee hours of the morning when I’m driving home from a night club and the frequent call to prayers. I also can’t forget the fact that I’m an outsider since people constantly remind me by shouting “bule!” (foreigner) as I pass. Yes, the bule shouts are getting old. Now that I’m over my culture shock hump, am settled into a routine, and can get around really well with my bahasa, the little intricacies of Indonesian culture are starting to show themselves. Who knows, maybe I’ll even see a ghost.

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.’

On Settling In

It has been nearly four months since I started my job in Indonesia. It has been challenging, rewarding, and much different than anything I could have prepared myself for. I guess at this point, you could say that I’m settling in. The culture shock is easing, though there is plenty that still irritates me. I’m getting tired of the food, but I do love rendang and anything with peanut chili sauce. Bahasa spills out of my mouth naturally, and though I’m sure I sound like a toddler, everyone tells me that I’m “pintar bahasa Indonesia!” – “very good at Indonesian!”  It warms my heart every time I hear one of my students use English that I taught them. And my slum-cat millionaire gets bigger and more hilarious every day. Yep. You could say that I’m settled in to Bandar Lampung.

Gado-Gado: rice and steamed veggies smothered in peanut chili sauce. give.me.more.

People tell me all the time that they are envious about how much more interesting my life is than theirs. This comment often confuses me because our conversations are mostly like this:

Friend/family member in the US: What have you been doing lately?
Me: Just been busy with work.
Friend/ family member in the US: Wow. Your life is so much more interesting than mine! All I do is get up, go to work, and come home. Same old thing every day.

Indonesian internet is pretty slow, so reception on Skype is usually fuzzy. Maybe they aren’t hearing me clearly when I say that I do the same thing that they do. . Monday – Friday. Get up. Go to work. Come home. But I wake up, go to work, and come home in Indonesia.

It’s like that Girls episode when Hannah goes back to Michigan for the weekend. Nervous to meet up with friends from high school, she gives herself this pep talk: “You are from New York, therefore you are naturally interesting.”

I guess it really is all relative. We settle into our cities, houses, and jobs and everything becomes mundane. We forget how hard we worked to achieve our routines. We forget the rush that we felt when everything was new. And it’s impossible to imagine that anyone would look at our routines and say “you are so lucky.”  But someone always does. So here’s to remembering that no matter where we live or what our jobs are, someone else is certain that our lives are more awesome than theirs.  Also, let’s never forget that being alive is endlessly interesting.