Yes, I know that most of my published work about Indo so far has consisted of not-so-subtle shade-throwing at Bali and the tourism-industrial complex there, but what do you know? Sometimes, my particular blinders get challenged, and it’s all for the better, I think.
Check out the excerpt below:
The music seeped under the doorway and through the window.
I muted the TV, as I strained to hear it. It was gamelan, I realized, a particular instrumental Indonesian traditional music. It sounded close, so I got out of bed and went out the front door of the Balinese guesthouse I was staying in. Nothing. I was greeted only by nighttime quiet, a peaceful garden staffed only with faintly buzzing insects, the cluck of the family chickens. All the members of the family running this guesthouse in their beautiful traditional family compound in Ubudwere neatly tucked away in their rooms for the evening.
I went back inside and lay in bed, still hearing the music, which was neither loud nor disruptive, but was present enough to make me wonder. It played in the background as I watched a terrible English-language action movie, the only thing I could understand on the TV, before it finally faded away in the wee hours of the night.
Late update, but my latest post on Pink Pangea went up a while ago. I had a conversation recently in which Palembang was revealed to have been described as the “armpit of Indonesia,” by various people. Okay, true, it’s not really “exotic” or “conventionally attractive,” but there’s lot of cool stuff to be found under the surface. Check out my 48 hours in Palembang article to find out what!
Palembang, my home for the past two years, is the provincial seat of South Sumatra in Indonesia and is thought to be the location of the ancient Malay kingdom of Sriwijaya. Located on the Musi River, it’s rapidly growing, crowded, noisy, and jammed with traffic. It’s easily accessible by air from Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore, among major Asian cities.
When asked to write about what to do in my current home base if you have only 48 hours, I immediately called upon my Palembang friends, especially Oktoryan William, or Ryan, a native who has lived here his entire life, has a formidable list of contacts on his two cellphones (not rare for communications-mad Indonesia), and has pretty much run my social life since I’ve arrived. Ryan graciously drew up an itinerary for me, so all the nitty-gritty practical details are his, and all the impressions of the activities and food are mine, unless stated otherwise.
As I’ve said before, Palembang isn’t really a tourist destination akin to beachy Bali or artsy Jogjakarta in Java, but there’s plenty to be found under the surface, especially if you have natives in the know like Ryan to show you around and ease the way.
1. Every time I do narrative texts with a class, I play a game I like to call “round-robin storytelling.” I start with a sentence, say, “Once upon a time, there was a king,” and then, each student contributes a sentence until the the story is finished.
The detailing of the stories draws on a gloriously weird mishmash of current and even past kids’ pop culture, folktales, current events, and just plain flights of fancy:Inuyasha, Detective Conan, BoBoiBoy (my multiple failed attempts to spell this Malaysian superhero’s name elicited peals of laughter from my students), witches, princes, princesses, Romeo and Juliet, the CIA, witches, wizards, famous soccer players, and in one class, a magical toilet.
A girl stumbled into this small, simple warung, a typical Indonesian restaurant, one day. Alone. She’s pretty enough, skinny and young. Small. Her hair’s chopped short into a pixie cut, mostly for herself, but also because she hopes that “boyish” hair will lessen the attention directed towards her. She wears modest clothes, an ankle-length skirt, and a high-necked shirt — for the same reason. She’s of Filipino descent, so she already blends in. She knows the drill after a year of living in Indonesia ; the less attention she gets, the freer she’ll be to wander where and when she pleases.
This is not a post about my New Year’s resolutions.
First of all, if you check the handy-dandy menu bar, you can see a list of goals right there. But mostly, I’ve always found the idea of resolutions an iffy proposition at best, half-meant promises of better health and morality and professional and academic success that I usually end up giving up on, due to laziness, cowardice, etc.
Today, I mostly want to talk about what I accomplished in 2014.
I was scrolling down my Facebook feed in mid-October when I saw some pictures of a parked airplane. The sky in the images was gray, curdled-looking; it was difficult to get a clear view of the runway. It looked like early morning, early evening.
I stopped and read the announcement above it:
“It’s 12.30pm. The haze due to deforestation is unbelievable. I am leaving Palembang for now. As I board the plane, I am thankful I have the chance to leave but I feel terrible for Sumatra and all the people here. No one, no one deserves this.”
A shudder ran through me. I knew my friend had been having respiratory problems due to the thick haze engulfing Sumatra, but I hadn’t thought it would come to a health evacuation. Later, I messaged her for more details. She, an expat university instructor in English, explained to me that her health issues had started three days after her arrival for the school year in Palembang. She had an upper respiratory infection, which caused troubled breathing and an itchy, dry throat and nose. Her eyes had become red and teary.
“Did I also mention severe coughing[?]” she typed.
This is my second year in Palembang, and the haze had not been this relentless last year. In conversations with natives of Palembang, the last time they remembered haze as thick was in 2008. This year, the seasonal rains, which usually wash the haze away took a longer time to arrive, due to the El Niño phenomenon.
My third post is up on Pink Pangea! In honor of Halloween, contributors were asked to submit articles about celebrating Halloween around the world. My post is about teaching Halloween in a country where Halloween is often little-understood (or even thought suspicious) and where there’s a strong and widespread belief in the supernatural. Here’s an excerpt:
It goes like this: I march into each bustling classroom laden with a full bag.
The students crow the usual Arabic greeting as I plop down at the desk, “Assalaamu ‘Alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh.”
I smile and respond with “Good morning.” Someday, I’ll nail the response, “Wa’alaikum Assalaam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,” but it’s not today unfortunately. A moment of silence is then announced for prayers, which is still surprising to me in this public school setting. I went to Catholic school when I was their age, but even I was aware that American public schools tend to be secular. Not so in publicly religious Indonesia.
The students babble as I hook up my laptop to the projector and fall into, if not quite silence, an approximation of it, once I face the classroom.
“Today, we’re talking about Halloween,” I announce, as I remove a plastic sparkly crown from the paper bag, “And I’m a princess.” I place it on my head as my students cheer.
I am very fortunate to have been able to experience Idhul Adha twice in a Muslim-majority country like Indonesia as a non-Muslim. Here’s an excerpt:
“I think the cows were bigger last year,” I said to my former host sister, as we surveyed the parking lot where we were about to witness qurban, the ritualistic slaughtering of cows and goats for Idhul Adha. Two cows and two goats were tied to the gate, and a group of men were slowly approaching the first cow. She nodded in agreement and took another picture of the cluster of people gathered for the ceremony.
This might not be a typical non-Muslim Westerner’s first thoughts when confronted with the annual ritual of qurban, but this is my second year in mostly Muslim Palembang and my second time attending a qurban ceremony, thanks to a generous invitation from the family who were the first to host me when I arrived in the city.
I had written about my first encounter with qurban last year for a different publication, but even I was unprepared for how unfazed I was this time around. Last year, I spent the entire time trying to get close to the action, my camera snapping the whole time, from the hobbling and carrying of the first cow to a hole dug in the ground to the chanting as its throat was cut and red blood gushed into the hole to the carrying of the now-dead cow to tarp to be butchered to the preparation by the women of the meat into dishes such as pindang, a rich spicy soup. I had been so intently fascinated by the ritual I had disturbed myself, wondering what about it was so compelling and if it was something in me that was disturbingly bloodthirsty or if it was merely an unusually intense anthropological curiosity.
I am now a foreign correspondent for Pink Pangea, a website for women who travel and work abroad!
I’m mega-excited to be part of this venture. If you have learned anything about me in the last year or so, I love traveling and discussing gender issues and believe that a woman should have the tools and knowledge to go anywhere she wants to go. I’m hoping to share a little bit of what I learned and am still learning in Indonesia with a broader audience.
Don’t worry. I still plan on updating this blog (not everything I come up with will be suitable for Pink Pangea!), but the activity on here will probably be a little quieter for awhile.
It’s nearing the end of my first month back in Palembang, which is a little hard to believe. Time moves fast then moves slow, etc. You know the drill. There are still some mornings or evenings when I lie in bed in my kos and wonder, I’m here again? Here in Palembang? In Indonesia? Again?
It’s a strange feeling. There are times I’m ecstatically happy, like when I’m walking down my new street in the early evening, off to buy gorengan or bubur ayam from the stalls for supper, with what amounts to less than a dollar in my pocket. Cats are darting here and there, as silent as ghosts. The night holds the pleasant buzz of chatter, children’s laughter, and honking cars. City life. Everything I love about a city at night, the comforting knowledge that there’s thousands, if not millions, of souls living their lives right here, and yet right now, I might as well be alone in the streets.
And yet, there are other times, like when I was sitting in what is now the second-swankiest mall in Palembang, sipping extraordinarily overpriced es teh manis in the new Kopitiam, about to see my second movie in less than a month and I wonder, Will this get boring soon? Am I bored already? I know PIM about as well as the back of my hand.