Reverse Reverse Culture Shock

Our trip to Peru allowed for a very twisted but interesting cultural experience. People talk about “reverse culture shock” – the idea that re-entry, into that which was once normal for you, can be a surprising and overwhelming experience. While most people go home and are reminded of things that they had forgotten about while abroad, though, I headed to another third world country, which was very similar to Indonesia, and watched other people go through the things that had been normalized in my mind over the last two years.

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I watched 93 others process the things that I stopped balking at long ago – bucket showers, no toilet seats, hot and humid weather, not understanding the language, a lack of efficiency, and big bugs.*

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The biggest change that I recognized in myself, though, was my reaction to things not going as planned. One of my biggest shortcomings is my love for control. I’ve habitually stuffed my life so full that things not going as planned throws a major wrench into my mental projection of how things should go.

Those of you who know anything about Indonesian culture can probably imagine, with some amusement, the way that it lined up with my personality and priorities. Needless to say, I had many opportunities to practice dealing with things that did not go as planned. To name a few: nothing ever being done on time, rain storms and flash floods, bankrupt airlines and disappearing drivers.

When we got to Peru, there were lots of things that weren’t quite what we expected. I didn’t get my luggage for two days. “We provide bedding” turned out to mean that there was a sheet on the mattress, but nothing else. We had no enclosed showers, and the public spigots sat between the boys’ and girls’ cabins.

What struck me, though, was that none of this really bothered me. Two years ago, I would’ve been up in arms, but my time in Indonesia taught me that, if you really think about it, those things don’t determine your effectiveness or joy or anything of much importance.

I learned that complaining and worrying and anxiety don’t solve anything, and that one’s response to a situation is 95% of the outcome. This sounds so simple, but it had to be beaten into me time and again before I really internalized it! I can’t say it was a fun lesson to learn along the way, but I am grateful for it.

So for that, Indonesia, thank you for rarely getting things right the first time.

*A quick return to the big bugs and getting over things that don’t go as planned. There were tarantulas around our camp, which had the students (literally) running in terror. A few days in, I decided to teach an object lesson in taking control of one’s surrounding and overcoming fear. One of the translators picked up the spider, and I passed it around to many of the students, who quickly learned that they were, in fact, bigger than the spiders at hand. I was pretty impressed by how many fears were tackled!

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A Trip to the Market

Here in Indonesia, I live in a bit of a bubble.  Less than a kilometer away are the huts and swamps and broken down walls and children playing shoeless in the street, but I live on the 50th floor a building across from a mega-mall and within walking distance of a golf course.

Generally, I like my bubble.  It’s comfortable.  Other times, I have an overwhelming urge to break out of my bubble.  I venture out to the warungs, or street food stands, to buy roasted corn.  I take my motorbike on drives through the dirt streets and over the speed bumps of the villages.  I shop for my green beans at a traditional market.

This is a part of life that has gone majorly undocumented thus far, because I’ve always been nervous of being an intruder.  As my time in Indonesia starts to wind down, though, I’ve realized how little of “real Indonesia” I have pictures of!  I wanted to share normal life, too – not just the trips we took for holidays or the fancy nights out.

My friend and I recently took a few hours on a random holiday to drive into the surrounding kampungs, or neighborhoods, and visit a market.  We were scared at first of intruding, of looking like eager tourists with a camera obsession. On the contrary, when I asked a lady for permission to take her picture, the floodgates opened!  Everyone in the area called to us, asking us to come over and photograph them and their goods. We had a great time, and I think they did too!

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Kalimantan: Dayak Village

When I was younger, I read and heard stories of the Dayak people, an Indonesian people group living in the jungle of Kalimantan.  One unexpected, but exciting, visit during our time in Kalimantan was to a Dayak village.  Because the village was nearer the town and tourists than most, it was definitely more Western than the more traditional dwellings.  That said, though, having the opportunity to spend time among the Dayak people was really fun.  Reading about things or people and then seeing them is my favorite!

Our guide was half Dayak, and had a really fascinating story.  His father lived in a jungle that was 6 hours by speed boat into the jungle and worked as a hunter.  When he ventured into the village to sell meet one day, he met his wife-to-be, a Malaysian economist studying the Dayak people.  They fell in love, and he whisked her away to the jungle. She fell in love with the jungle and the village life, but he decided that their children needed an education, and the family moved into town when our guide was 5 years old.  He went on for a university degree, and speaks 7 languages!

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“A hut for children to gather and play”

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My Life in Indonesia: A Tragic Comedy

I walked down the highway chatting with my friend as the sun shone down on our shoulders.  The street was lined with trees and the mountains rose behind us, creating a backdrop that re-demanded attention and remarks about its beauty every few moments.

And, as we walked, we inhaled the fumes of hours of stand-still traffic and did our best to ignore the constant catcalls that were sadly misplaced due to a lack of control of the English language.

Really, this dichotomy of beauty and frustration is quite symbolic of my life here in SouthEast Asia.  I live in one of the most stunning countries on earth.  From the coral nestled deep in the seas to the cauldrons of the looming volcanos, there is no denying that Indonesia is naturally fascinating.  However, at the same time, life here can be endlessly disheartening.  Things don’t go as planned, people don’t show up on time, and no one will give you a straight answer.

This was one of those days which started off with the highest of hopes but quickly morphed into issue after issue.  At the time, I was definitely not enjoying myself, but looking back it is undeniably ridiculous to the point of laughing at the sequence of events.

8:00 a.m.

Having spent the long weekend a few hours south of our current abode, my friends and I woke up early to beat the traffic in the area.  We had plans to go hang gliding and spend the afternoon at a tea plantation, and our driver was scheduled to arrive at 8:00.

I’ve lived here for two years now, resulting in (more of) an understanding of the way that things work, so I checked with the hotel staff to make sure our driver had actually showed up.  “Yes,” they assured me, “he’s ready when you are!”  So the six of us brought our various bags out to load of the van, only to find that he was, in fact, not there.

I spent a good while explaining to the hotel manager that we had somewhere we needed to be and time was important (this is counter-cultural).  After determining that driver #1 was in traffic (read: never called and/or not in the mood to show up), she called another driver.

9:30 a.m.

Driver #2 arrived and was quite eccentric.  The entire car was covered in trash, and #2 was very excited to practice his broken English by asking me barely coherent questions throughout the entire journey.

11:00 a.m.

After about an hour and a half of driving, we had successfully covered the 20 miles to the tea plantation.  Leaving one friend there to read, we continued the final 2 miles to the hang gliding location.  When we reached the top of the hill, we inquired with the people behind the hang gliding company’s desk.  They knew nothing, and seemed quite frustrated that we would consult them; it turned out they had simply been looking for a seat.  We located a random restaurant owner who called a random man who told us that maybe we could hang glide.

Though his logic was faulty on many levels, I managed to work out in some mix of English and Indonesian that we would wait until 12:00 to see if we could hang glide, but that we would need to return to Jakarta after that to avoid traffic.

12:10 p.m.

The hang gliding random man told me to wait 10 more minutes, or maybe until tomorrow.  I re-informed him that waiting longer was not an option and danced through a circular conversation* only to arrive at the fact that we would not be hang gliding that afternoon.

We started back down the hill, only to immediately stop in traffic that was not moving.  At all.  Apparently, the system set up to help with traffic in Bogor is having a one-way road that alternates back and forth. Without a schedule.

1:00 p.m.

We sat for an hour, and all rejoiced as traffic started moving… and then our driver pulled over to the side of the road.  “Sorry, sorry!  I buy gas!”

Groaning, we waited and watched our sliver of hope disappear.  By the time he was back, traffic had grid-locked again.

“It’s okay, ya?” he asked.  “No,” I told him,”please buy gas while we are stopped instead of the one time traffic is moving.”

2:00 p.m.

Sick of sitting in an overcrowded car on an overcrowded road, several of us decided to walk down to the tea plantation and wait there for our driver.**  Which brings us back to where we started: the sun, the mountains, the exhaust, the catcalls.  We finish our trek in all of ten minutes, and go in to buy some tea before returning to the entrance of the plantation to wait for our driver.

3:00 p.m.

Traffic speeds up significantly, and all of the cars that had been in front of and behind ours have passed us. Our driver still has not showed up.

 Now, let me set the scene for you.  We are six white people sitting on the side of a road very full of people that think all white people are celebrities worth harassing.  There are three policeman, a news anchor with her camera man, and a handful of ojeks (or motorcycle taxis) at the same entrance.

Our driver has all of our things, and we are becoming increasingly concerned that he has driven off with them.  The longer we wait, the more significant items I realize I would lose – my credit cards, passport, laptop, camera, student tests (God forbid).

Working together, we mentally and verbally flip through our slim options.

1. Ask the police for help.
This idea is immediately rejected since police here only take your money, not find it.  However, they did seem quite amused by watching our helplessness.

2. Call the driver.
We call the hotel for the driver’s number, and are given the wrong one. We call back and are given the right one.  We call him six times and he does not answer.  This increases our anxiety.

3. Cry.
This almost happened.

4. Count down the days until I move back to America.
This definitely happened.***

5. Take motorcycle taxis to search for our lost driver.
At our wit’s end, we sent two members of our party on ojeks to search for our long lost driver – and valuables.  While they are gone, we begin planning an alternate way to get back to Jakarta.

3:30 p.m.

Our friends call us, telling us that they have found the driver.  He had stopped for gas (again) as soon as the traffic had started moving (again) and was apparently just hanging out up there.  Needless to say, they climbed into the car and accompanied him toward us.

3:45 p.m.

As we continue waiting at our perch for him to make his way to us, we hear an enormous crack of thunder and the rain begins.  Let me remind you, dear friends, that Indonesia is a tropical country.  This means major rain storms.

We begin to trek our way back up the hill, seeking the cover of the vehicle.  As we trudge up the side of the hill, through the pollution, in the rain, all of the people in the cars along the way roll down their windows.

Many take pictures, many try to hit on me by calling me “mister,” and others simply state “hujan***.”

4:00 p.m.

Needless to say, I was not in a good mood when we finally arrived at the car and the driver stuck out his hand and said, smiling, “It’s okay, ya?”

8:30 p.m.

After stopping twice more for gas (the second time I gave him money and told him to fill up the car, that we would not be stopping again), major car sickness, multiple requests to please roll up his window to keep the pollution in the car to a minimum, and endless stop-and-go traffic we arrived at our apartment.****

9:00 p.m.

Over sushi and Starbucks with a friend, I thank God that we made it back home before work the next morning and with all of our things in tow.  And really, it is home.  After two years here in my little corner of a little suburb outside of Jakarta, I feel at home.  There is that relief of return and the reality that I’m starting to figure out how to do life here.  Here, where the beauty and frustration have become so interconnected that one cannot really separate them from one another, I have been challenged and have made mistakes and have grown and have become sad about leaving.

But let’s end on an honest note (I was still born and raised an American, after all): I’m so, so glad that that journey is over, and am very much looking forward to the “bad traffic” in the States.

*In order to save face, people here will not tell you no.  They simply avoid saying yes until you give up.

**This is one of the nice thing about Indonesia!  Maids, drivers, nannies – they’re a fixture in the life of normal people!

***Recently, I have been quite sad to leave Indonesia.  I absolutely adore my students, and our lifestyle here is pretty cool.  This was not one of the moments in which I was upset to be leaving.

****Hujan = rain.  Yes, thank you, I do realize that it is pouring.

*****Our apartment was approximately 60 miles away from the starting point, which we had left more than 8 hours before.

My [Assumed] Chinese Heritage

I never really thought of myself as particularly Asian.

Apparently, people here disagree.

My kids tell me that I look Chinese all the time, that I have “more Chinese eyes* than they do.” Of course, my students say a lot of things, and if I believed them I would identify myself as a Taylor-Swift-esque, Shakira-resembling, main-character-from-brave-look-alike who is Chinese and fat and tall.  So I don’t always listen.

Then, just a few months ago, a good friend of mine told me she thought I was half Chinese for all of the first semester.

Then, I went to get glasses.  16-year-old Lauren was told that she needed to get glasses to fix accident induced double-vision.  My 23-year-old self finally gave in today.  While I was waiting for the glasses, the lady working the counter asked me, in broken English, where I was from.  I told her I was American.

“Oh, but half Chinese??”

No.. just white.

“But your eyes are Chinese, yes?!”

Nope. Plain old white person.

“Oh very interesting.  I was very confused because they are Chinese but blue.”

*The topic of race is MUCH more open here – people will say anything, and it is generally accepted socially.  I’m a bit afraid that this will get me in trouble upon moving home.

Junior Unity Cup 2014

Every year, my student council puts on a soccer tournament for the underprivileged schools in the area.  This is a special time, because 1) soccer is a huge deal here and 2) we have a really nice field.  So nice, in fact, that the Indonesia national team elected to practice at our school instead of their usual training grounds as they prepare to go play in Pakistan next week.  It was a really neat opportunity this year for the kids to play their tournament alongside the practice of their soccer (football) heroes!

After the national team was done, they agreed to come over to say hi and take a picture with our tournament attendees, which was super special.  Despite a few rough patches (a broken arm and the teacher asking us to pay for a witchdoctor’s treatment being chief among them), the day went really smoothly and fun was had by all.  I was especially impressed by my ninth grade volunteers who, after an entire week away on a missions trip, showed up bright and early and were so intentionally involved with the kids!

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Sukabumi: Village Visit

Yesterday, I started a short series of posts about our 7th grade field trip. Today, I will continue talking about our 3-day journey to a national park outside of Jakarta with pictures from our village visit.

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Many of our students chose this venture to a traditional village as their favorite activity on retreat, which I thought was pretty neat.  We took jeeps off-roading to get to the village, and then explored some of the aspects of traditional village life in Indonesia.  The students take part in making gula merah, or “red sugar,” make bracelets out of reeds, plant rice, and sift and pound rice.  It’s a fun time – meeting these people, playing with the kids, and trying some snacks – but eye-opening as well.

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My group of 6 girls cracked me up at one point.  As we went through the village, we talked about what they were learning and I asked them what they thought it would be like to live like this daily.  Our second last stop in our rotation was the rice fields, which girls often balk at entering the rice paddies because you get so muddy.  The group I was with, however, hopped right in and then begged to stay, asking if “they really had to go to their final rotation?” or if they could instead “plant rice all day.”  They told me that planting rice would be a far better lifestyle than school and homework. Not quite the lesson that I was expecting, but I was proud of the way that they jumped right in and embraced it 🙂

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The person that amazed me the most was the 100-year-old man that we met at the station where we cooked sugar.  Not only did he still cook sugar all day… he also climbed palm trees daily to get the materials!

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