Posts Tagged ‘rice paddies’

I’m coming to the end of my fellowship and am preparing to fly back to the U.S. soon, which of course prompts all sorts of reflection on my past 10 months in Indonesia.  I’m ready to go to the U.S., but there are definitely things I will miss about Indonesia.  And there are definitely things I will NOT miss.  To wit…

Things I will NOT miss
Things I WILL miss
paying $3.00 for a can of garbanzo beans paying $4 for a pedicure or $6 for an hour-long massage
expensive crappy wine mango juice, soursop juice, fresh young coconut juice
views like this:

views like this:

being called to every time I go out in public: “Hello Miss!”  “Hello Mister!”  “How are you!”  “What is your name!”  “I love you!”  “Good afternoon Mrs.!” “Bule!” (which means “white person” or “foreigner”) being treated like a celebrity
a national cuisine in which roughly 80% of the food is fried (usually in palm oil) fried tempeh
being asked where I live, if I’m married, if I have a boyfriend, or how old I am, often by complete strangers being told I am beautiful, often by complete strangers
slow internet a portable modem that allows me to go online almost anywhere, regardless of wi-fi service
watching people answer phone calls and carry on conversations during meetings and workshops cheap (we’re talking $3 for an hour-long call to the U.S.) and easy pay-as-you-go cell phone service
public smoking pretty much anywhere

photo by Maura Phelan

volcanoes (smoking or otherwise)

5 am calls to prayer (loud and annoying) 6 pm calls to prayer (reassuring and soothing)
my neighbor’s rooster, which crows ALL. DAY. LONG. the neighbor ladies who chat with me (“Where are you going?”  “You are so healthy.”  “You are so beautiful and sexy.”  “You are so polite.”) and bring me snacks.  And the security guards in my neighborhood who all say hello to me during my walks (“Good evening Mrs.”), even when I pass them 3 times during my loop.
breakdowns in communication the ease and frequency with which people smile
never totally knowing when a scheduled meeting will actually start the relaxed pace of life
litter bougainvillea
finding things like this in my house:

(it took me 10 months to work up the courage to photograph one of these monsters instead of running away from it squealing like a little girl)

finding things like this in my house:

(they eat bugs (although I’ve never seen one take on a 4-inch spider) and they’re cute, but I did get a little tired of cleaning up lizard poop)

public restrooms with no soap, and knowing most Indonesians don’t carry/use hand sanitizer (there’s a reason the left hand is considered dirty around these parts – it usually is!) cream baths (a misnomer as this does not involve a bath but is actually a deep-conditioning hair treatment coupled with a head/scalp massage)
always wondering if I will get sick when eating at a new place (because of poor hygiene, limited refrigeration, no FDA regulations, etc.) when waitstaff at places I frequent remember what I like to order and how I like to order it (no rice, sauce on the side, etc.)
the noise (I somehow brought up noise ordinances in my writing class the other day – my students were both awed and horrified by the concept of volume regulation) buying pirated movies for $1 each
indirectness a flexible work schedule that allows for a lot of travel
rice at nearly every meal (and being questioned when I don’t eat it)

This is what an Indonesian airline gave me once for a flight delay: 3 fried things and a big ol' scoop of rice

rice paddies
(they’re beautiful)


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When I taught English on the cruise ships, I had to interview each student to determine his/her class placement.  One of the questions was “Tell me about your hometown.”  Most students, regardless of language level, made a combination of good, bad, and neutral statements.  Things like “Is big city” or “There are too many cars” or “It’s really close to the beach.”  But I noticed something different about my Balinese students.  When I posed that question to them, their faces usually erupted into HUGE smiles.  They then proceeded to say nothing but positive things about Bali.  This struck me.  And usually at some point in their description they uttered the sentence “Bali is beautiful.”

Having already visited Bali in September, I knew they were right – Bali IS beautiful.    So when the Fulbright program needed help with a pre-departure orientation there, I jumped at the chance for a free flight, happily re-worked my teaching schedule, tacked on a couple weekends, and made a full week of it.  I decided I would base myself in Ubud, the arts and culture mecca.

I ate roast suckling pig at the world-famous Ibu Oka’s restaurant.  There isn’t a whole lotta pork on Muslim Java.  But in predominantly-Hindu Bali, pork is not only fair game, it’s a traditional dish.  My Balinese ship students were always talking about it, so I had to try it.

I took a morning walk through some rice paddies.  It was lovely.  I stopped to watch a man collect coconuts:

I walked to neighboring villages, where I came across some Balinese kids studying traditional dance and music.  Watch them practicing here.

I took a bicycle tour around central Bali.  We paused to admire some terraced rice fields:

Then we ate breakfast overlooking this:

We also visited a coffee plantation, where I tried kopi luwak, the most expensive coffee in the world.  The high cost comes from the harvesting process:  civet cats eat the coffee beans, the civets digest the coffee beans, some poor schmuck collects the coffee beans, and then the beans are roasted as per usual.  Not being much of a coffee connoisseur, I thought it tasted like regular coffee.  It did not smell like poo.

Then I took a shuttle to the orientation site, where I spent 2 days preparing Indonesia’s best and brightest to study and teach in U.S. universities.  And can you believe THIS was the view from my hotel room?

After “work” it was back to Ubud for me.  I took a cooking class and learned to make traditional Balinese dishes.  I took a silversmithing class and made what is now my new favorite ring.  I wandered around and met two characters from Eat, Pray, Love: Wayan the healer and Ketut the medicine man.

I hired a guy with a motor bike to drive me around central Bali, visiting Hindu temples.

sarongs required at Goa Gajah (the elephant cave)

the holy springs at Tirta Empul

I happened to be in Bali during Galungan, a Hindu holiday that celebrates the triumph of good over evil.  What a wonderful thing to celebrate.  Because of the holiday, many families were praying at the temples.

Sometimes entire villages paraded together to a temple.  It was an astounding sight.

I walked along more rice paddies.  Despite my daily struggle to avoid eating rice, I sure do love to gaze at it growing.

I went to some traditional dance performances:

I walked all around Ubud and its surrounding villages,
popping in and out of stores,
window shopping,
stumbling upon Hindu ceremonies,
patronizing local cafes,
and enjoying life.
I walked so much I developed a blister.  I changed my sandals and walked some more.  And in case you couldn’t already tell, I went a little crazy photographing all of it.  You can see many more pictures here.

Bali is very different from where I live in central Java.  Bali is Hindu.  Bali is more touristed.  Bali is quieter.  Bali is lined with sidewalks.  Bali is less littered.  Bali is full of wonderful restaurants.  Bali is sprinkled with colorful flower-filled offerings, mini disposable works of art giving thanks to the gods.  And of course, Bali is beautiful.

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When I was taking beginning Indonesian at Cornell last year, our textbook usually started with a short cultural introduction before delving into vocabulary and grammar lessons.  One of those chapters featured Tana Toraja, a region on Sulawesi island known for its elaborate funeral ceremonies.  When an important person dies, water buffalo (sometimes dozens) are sacrificed to accompany the soul to the hereafter, and the buffalo horns are displayed on the family’s distinctive Torajan home.    A basic water buffalo runs about a thousand dollars, but the sought-after spotted buffalo, especially those with blue eyes and large horns, can cost upwards of $8000.   Part of my mid-term exam after that unit included performing a role play with my partner.  Our assigned situation: one of us was planning a funeral in Toraja and the other one was a buffalo farmer – we had to negotiate a sale.  I distinctly remember giggling when given this scenario, thinking “When am I ever going to actually use this in real life?”


My friend Abbie and I both wanted to visit the exotic region of Tana Toraja, so we planned a trip there over the recent Hindu New Year holiday weekend.  Our 3-day tour included visits to many of the distinctive grave sites that make Tana Toraja and its funeral ceremonies famous.  Some dead are buried in grave houses.

Some are buried in cliff walls or caves.  These are often guarded by wooden effigies of the bodies.  I found the overall effect to be like a gallery of onlookers watching the comings and goings from cliff-side balconies.

Some are buried in large boulders.

Babies were traditionally buried in trees, although nowadays they are buried in the family’s grave house.

Some of the dead are placed in caves, where the older coffins have disintegrated, revealing the skeletons housed inside.

Our tour also included a half-day trek to a village, which was one of the more challenging hikes I’ve ever done.  Our guide informed us we’d be walking through rice paddies, which sounded lovely.  And it WAS gorgeous.

But it was also strenuous.  Terraced rice paddies are formed with borders of compacted mud to contain the flooded fields of rice.  It was on these dirt dikes that we scrambled through the paddies, balancing on what was sometimes only a 5-inch wide band of earth.  Slipping meant falling into a soupy rice field on either side of us with mud up to our knees.  We spent several hours slowly making our way up and around the hillside, occasionally climbing over boulders or crossing rivers by strategically hurling ourselves from rock to rock. Our destination: a traditional Torajan house  (tongkonan) where we would spend the night.  How lucky am I to get to do this type of stuff?

In addition to touring graves, trekking through paddies, and a tongkonan overnight, our tour also included a stop at the weekly livestock market, where villagers from around the area come to display and sell their water buffalo.  I love visiting markets, and was especially excited to visit this one because 1) I had never been to a livestock market and 2) I kept thinking back to my beginning Indonesian role play at Cornell.  It was fascinating.  There were hundreds of water buffalo on show: black ones, brown ones, white-spotted ones, small ones, large ones, and blue-eyed ones.  When we came upon a gigantic spotted buffalo, with clear blue eyes and a huge set of horns, I couldn’t resist.   I went up to the man tending the prize animal and asked him how much it cost.  He told me 250 million rupiah.  That’s about $25,000.  Wow.  And so there I was, not exactly bargaining for a buffalo (because really, what am I going to do with a water buffalo?), but at least inquiring about its price.  Who would’ve thought?

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A heavy sigh is probably not the best title for a blog entry, but that pretty much encapsulates my current mood.  I had a great birthday weekend in central Java with 3 other ELFs.  So great, in fact, that I saw myself staying in Indonesia a second year.  I had been leaning toward leaving when this contract ends, but enjoying fantastic tours in beautiful scenery made me think I could gain so much more from staying in Indonesia a second year.

Friday I visited a batik factory.   Indonesia’s most famous handicraft is a fascinating process and seeing it first-hand made me really appreciate the artistry and hard work behind it.  Then I had a girls’ night out at a delicious Italian restaurant, complete with wine (hard to come by in a predominantly Muslim country)!

Saturday I took a bicycle tour through scenic rice paddies …

visiting small villages where I could see local products like tempeh, rice crackers and gamelan instruments being made.

I also discovered a delectable treat special to the town of Solo: srabi.  These thin crispy crepes are filled with coconut milk and steamed until the center becomes a custardy puddle of sweetness.

Sunday I rode on the back of a motorbike for more than 3 hours through hills and hills of scenic tea fields and rice paddies to visit old Hindu temples.

Sometime during the motorbike ride it struck me that I am a very, very lucky girl to live on such an exotic and pretty island having these breathtaking experiences.  It was a good weekend.

But then…


I came back to my house to find my front porch sopping wet.  This is normal since the rainy season began because a design flaw in my roof means some of the rain flow always pours onto my porch instead of into my yard.

I also found my back door open from when my colleagues had attempted to fix some water pressure issues over the weekend, meaning any number of bugs, rodents, and other creepy crawlies could freely wander into my house while I was gone.  Luckily the only intruders seemed to be a few extra mosquitoes.

I also found that my water pressure was not fixed.  In fact, it had deteriorated to the point that I couldn’t take a shower.  I made arrangements with my coworker to have a repairman come in the morning.  Knowing that Indonesians start their days much earlier than I do, I requested that the guy come after 8 am.  My counterpart scheduled him to arrive at 7:30 am.  Okay, being the flexible and culturally-sensitive person I am, I accepted that I have to make some adaptation to the culture in which I live.  And besides, I want my faucets fixed, so 7:30 seemed like an acceptable compromise.

The next morning I was awoken by a knock at my door.  It was 6:15 am.  It was the repair guy, exercising that frustrating Indonesian concept known as “rubber time.”  Seriously?  6:15?  In the morning?

Then my laundry service came to pick up my laundry.  I asked them about my previously white but now black-and-blue-marked camisole.  I suspected the discoloration was from their drying racks.  They suggested it was from my colored clothes.  Huh.  Do they not wash whites and darks separately?  Shouldn’t a laundry service know to do that?

And then my mail was delivered.  In its normal place, which is on the floor of my porch.  My wet porch.  So it was with a great sense of frustration that I opened my soggy mail: some adorable birthday cards from my loving family and a save-the-date for my good friend’s May wedding, which I will miss because I will still be in Indonesia in May.

Admittedly, none of these issues are particularly bad – most days I can shrug them off.  But these sorts of challenges are a normal part of living here, and facing them on a daily basis does eventually grow wearisome.  This was a wearisome day.  So now you may understand the heavy-hearted sigh at the beginning of this post.  It’s heavy because it holds a lot:

  • my ache at being far from home and missing loved ones
  • the clash between my type-A personality and the realities of living in an early-bird culture with a relaxed view of time
  • my frustrations with continued home repair problems
  • my lack of understanding of how Indonesians think, and my decreasing confidence in their critical thinking and problem-solving abilities
  • my disappointment that, no matter how much I wanted to love living here, there are many things I don’t like about it
  • my fast-approaching deadline to decide about staying in Indonesia a second year
  • and my knowledge that staying in this sometimes gorgeous country also means another 10 months of rubber time, malfunctions, confusion, and misunderstandings.

I’m pretty sure I still want to live abroad, I’m just not sure that I want to stay in Indonesia.  Maybe 10 months here is enough.  My career gives me the luxury of being able to work in almost any country, so why, of all the places in the world, should I stay where things usually don’t work quite right and the views (even the most beautiful ones) are marred by litter?   I could live in a more developed country.  That won’t take away the difficulties of living far from home, and it will only replace cross-cultural misunderstandings with those of a different culture, but I could be living in more comfort while dealing with those issues.  And so my heavy sigh also carries with it sadness to think that I’m probably leaving Indonesia in June.  But at the same time, the prospects of a new place with new adventures seem to keep me moving.

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