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Posts Tagged ‘snorkeling’

Some students invited me to spend 4 days with them in Karimunjawa, a chain of 27 islands off the north coast of Java.  Since this was a student backpacking trip to a rather remote part of Indonesia, I was expecting a rustic long weekend, but also hoping for some beautiful and fun-filled island adventures.

Rustic indeed. We rode a public bus 2 hours to the harbor, then a ferry (economy class = no a/c) 6 hours to the main island. The island does not have daytime electricity (read: no a/c).  We stayed in a homestay with a squat toilet and a traditional mandi for bathing (a basin of water with a scoop). While none of this is my preferred style of travel, I knew what I signed up for and accepted it as part of the adventure.

One day we went on a full-day snorkel tour, which was the worst snorkeling tour I’ve ever been on. In my humble opinion, boat operators should not throw trash into the ocean, nor should they tell tourists to step on the coral to get in and out of the boat. They should, however, bring enough snorkel gear for each of the participants. Given that the coral reefs we visited were the smallest I’ve seen (hmmm…could that be connected to people stepping on the coral?) and the fish were less-than-spectacular, I let the other students, most of whom had never been snorkeling, use the limited equipment. I mostly just swam around at each of our stops, which was fun enough but not quite what I had expected.

The next day we hiked to two different beaches. Our tour guide got us lost in the jungle. He also littered some more. I also yelled at him some more. When I wasn’t grumpy about the littering or the ceaseless heat or my painful sunburn, I did generally enjoy the islands. The snorkeling, swimming, and hiking were fine.  And I really liked picnicking on the beaches, grilling fish and shellfish straight from the ocean, and slurping fresh juice out of coconuts.  But the things that will stick with me most from this trip  are the lessons we exchanged. Spending 4 full days with 9 Indonesian college students (all Muslim) gave me an opportunity to ask a lot of questions and gain a better understanding of Indonesian culture. And as I asked more questions and the students shared answers with me, they began to ask questions as well.

Here are some of the questions I posed throughout our long weekend together, along with the students’ answers:

Q: I know you have to wash before you pray, but is there a process for that?
A: Yes, we wash our hands, then our face, then our mouth, then our lower legs and feet.  Three times each.
Q: Why 3 times?  Is there any symbolism behind the number 3?
A: Because that’s what the prophet Mohamed did.  That’s just what Mohamed tells us to do.
Q: (Addressed to a group of girls)  I noticed you carry little purses every time you go to the mosque to pray.  What’s in them?
A: Our coverings.  We have to cover ourselves from our head to our feet when we pray.  Men have to cover themselves down to their knee, so they usually wear a sarong, but they can also wear pants.
Q: Why do women have to cover themselves more than men?
A: So men aren’t distracted or tempted by the women.
Q: Okay, I can understand that.  But doesn’t that assume that women do not get distracted by men?  Isn’t it possible for a woman to think “wow, that guy’s really cute” while she’s at the mosque trying to pray?
A: Uh… yes, that is possible.  But it is more common for men to touch women than women to touch men.  (I let this topic drop but am still kind of confused about it.  I had thought women dress modestly to prevent impure thoughts from men, but they seemed to be bringing up the possibility of assault or rape, which kind of surprised me.)
Q: When we go snorkeling and swimming, will you wear a swimming jilbab (head covering)?  Do they make special waterproof jilbabs?
A: Yes, I will cover my head, but I will wear my normal jilbab.  I don’t think they make waterproof jilbabs.  I don’t know.
Q: Do jilbabs come in different sizes?
A: Usually one size fits all.  But more conservative women wear longer jilbabs that cover their torso (instead of just their hair).
Q: What time do you normally wake up?
A: Usually 5 am to pray.  But then we usually go back to sleep.  We get up again at 7 or 8, depending on what time we have class.
Q: Why did it take you so much longer to pray this evening? (The group of girls were gone for 30 or 40 minutes, when they were usually gone about 10 minutes to pray.)
A: We were reading the Quran.
Q: How often do you read the Quran?
A: One student said she normally reads it every day, usually after the evening prayer.  Another student said she reads it about twice a week.  Other students read it just when they need extra guidance or reminders.
Q: Do kids in Indonesia usually have their own room, or do they share with a sibling?
A: Usually their own room.
Q: Do boarding houses have curfews? (University students usually live at home if they go to school in their hometown.  Students from out-of-town usually live in a boarding house near campus.)
A: Yes, usually 11 pm.

Here are some of the questions the students asked me:

Q: Does it hurt? (Upon seeing my lobster-red legs after our full day of snorkeling.)
A: YES!
Q: Is sunburn permanent?  Will your skin be white again?
A: It will be red for a few days, then fade to tan, then it will eventually be white again.
Q: Why do white people like to sunbathe?  Why do they want to be darker? (Note: I do not sunbathe.  My burn was an unfortunate result of spending an entire day in the unrelenting equatorial sun, despite numerous applications of SPF 30 sunblock.)
A: I think most people want what they don’t have.  So white people try to be darker.  And Indonesians try to be whiter by using lightening creams.
Q: What food do you miss from the US?
A: I really miss sandwiches.  (They pointed out I can make those here, which is true, but it would have to be on white bread.  And the ingredients to make a really good, loaded sandwich are hard to come by all at the same time, so I’ve stopped trying to make sandwiches myself.)
Q: Why don’t you eat rice?  (They asked me this at our first meal when they noticed I didn’t take any rice.  Indonesians generally eat rice at every meal.  It’s the main staple and what fills them up, with protein and vegetables playing a supporting role.)
A: If I eat rice at every meal it makes me feel full, but not in a good way.  Rice doesn’t have a lot of nutritional value, so I feel like I ate a lot with no benefit.  And in the US we don’t usually eat rice at every meal.  Actually, we don’t even eat rice every day.
Q: Did you ever have Indonesian food before you came to Indonesia?
A: Indonesian restaurants are very rare in the US.  I think most Americans don’t know any Indonesian food.  But I did have some Indonesian food before I came here because I took an Indonesian language class and my teacher sometimes cooked food for us and brought it to class.
Q: How do we stop someone from littering if it’s a normal part of our culture?
A: Well, you can set an example by not littering yourself.  And if you see someone litter, tell them not to do it.  And if you see a tour guide litter, stop using them as a guide.  You can find another guide who doesn’t litter – then you’re not supporting the guides who do litter.  (This tidbit blew their minds.)
Q: Those people are saying hello to you.  Why don’t you say hello to them?
A: People shout at me every day.  Sometimes I don’t like the attention, so I try to ignore it.  (Throughout the long weekend they got a glimpse of just how much attention I attracted as a foreigner, although I think for only 4 days they thought it was fun.  After 7 months, I can tell you from personal experience that it gets pretty old.)
Q: Why do you give so much homework? (I have a reputation on campus for giving a homework assignment every week.)
A: I’m used to classes meeting 2 or 3 times a week and seeing my students 3 or 4 hours.  But my classes here only meet once a week, so I only see you 1.5 hours each week.  I try to make you practice English more outside of class by doing homework.  Also, in the U.S. it’s normal to get homework every day, so that is my habit.
Q: Why don’t you have a religion? (Indonesians are required by law to claim a religion, the majority being Muslim.)
A: I was raised Catholic, but in high school I thought my confirmation classes were a joke, so I quit.  There are also things about Catholicism that I don’t agree with, like their views on birth control, and that men and women aren’t treated equally.
Q: Have you ever tried to look for a different religion?
A: I’ve considered it.  One thing I like about organized religion is the community it provides.  You can make friends and work together on projects.  When I move to a new city, sometimes it’s hard for me to make friends, and a church or religious group could provide a support network.  But there are things I don’t like about organized religion.  And I haven’t yet found a religion whose beliefs I completely agree with.
Q: Sometimes I need to pray to get guidance from God.  If I have a problem, it helps me to pray.  What do you do if you have a problem or need guidance?
A: Many times I go for a walk or workout at a gym to clear my mind.  (This resulted in a follow-up question of whether I get answers from exercising.  I said sometimes I get ideas while I’m working out, but mostly it makes me feel refreshed and have more energy so I can face my problem again.  I asked if they get answers from praying.  They said sometimes, but usually they feel more refreshed and have more energy so they can face their problems again.)
Q: What do you do for fun on the weekends?
A: I go for walks or go to the gym. I read a lot.  Sometimes I watch movies.  I practice guitar.  I go to the mall.
Q: Why do you ask so many questions?  Is it your personality?  Are you curious?  Or do all Americans ask questions?
A: I think, on average, Americans probably ask more questions than Indonesians.  But I probably ask more questions than the average American, especially “why” questions.  Yes, I am curious.  And there is a lot I don’t understand about Indonesia, so I ask questions to try to understand it better.  That way, when I go back to the US, I can tell people more about Indonesia.

The student question that really struck me, however, came at the end of the trip.  This was after our 6-hour ferry ride back to Java (economy class again – did I mention how hot it is without a/c?) and during our sweltering, crowded bus ride back to Semarang.  He asked me if I had been backpacking before.  I said of course, why do you ask?  He said I looked tired or unhappy.  I said I was really hot and uncomfortable.  I asked “Don’t you get tired when you’re hot?”  He said “Yes, but it’s always hot.  So I think it’s better to laugh with your friends instead.  We have fun together.  Then we are not so tired.”  In other words, lighten up Stephanie.  And that was an answer I really needed, especially now.  Indonesia has been wearing on me lately.  I’ve been finding myself more sensitive to strangers shouting at me, less tolerant of the heat and dirt and noise, and more frustrated by communication problems.  But this student’s insight was a valuable reminder of how I can better relate to Indonesian culture: just enjoy what there is to enjoy, and don’t sweat the other stuff.  (Figuratively, of course.  Because when we’re talking about literally sweating, there’s just no avoiding it.)

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Bali highlights

Ramadan ends with a major holiday, called Eid el Fitri or Lebaran.  It’s kind of like Thanksgiving in the U.S. in that a lot of things close and most people travel to visit and feast with their families, except in Indonesia it lasts for at least a week instead of just 2 days.  All of us English Language Fellows here in Indonesia decided to spend our week off vacationing together in Bali.  It was an absolute blast and I could write a book about it, but instead I’ll just try to highlight some of the more memorable experiences.

  • Ubud, Bali. This is a very touristy town, but of the artsy cultural sort rather than the raging party or beach bum varieties.037 Definitely my kind of place, and the one city I really want to revisit.  The morning started with a stroll through the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, with Hindu temples and statues scattered through the tropical forest, full of long-tailed macaques.  I spent the afternoon shopping in markets full of beautiful handicrafts, particularly silverwork and batik, although I also bought some lovely glass mosaic pieces.  Evening brought a Kecak dance performance, which was thrilling.  091I want more Ubud!  (The only damper on this day came at the end of our one-hour taxi ride back to our villa, when the driver stopped on the side of a remote road in Canggu and demanded more money to actually take us to our hotel.  Like a random rice paddy was exactly what we had in mind when we asked him to drive us to Canggu!  We all sat in the car, in the dark, for a good 10-15 minutes before agreeing to pay the extra money to go to our villa.  The driver then had to get directions to figure out where that actually was.  When we arrived we argued some more, refused to pay the extra amount, and walked away.  Ridiculousness!  )
  • Clubbing in Legian. Three of us went hard core on our quest for some hip-hop, and finally found it at M Bar Go.  My friend Adam is probably the best dancer I’ve seen in person, and it was great fun to dance the night away and watch a developing gang of groupies follow him around the dance floor.  They grew increasingly enthralled.  I grew increasingly exhausted.  But it was a fun night out.
  • Snorkeling. Our whole group chartered a small skiff to take us out snorkeling/diving in Manjangan Bay.  Our first site was insane – rough waves, coral inches below us, and lots of bumps and scrapes.  Our second location was much calmer, resulting in a wonderful snorkeling experience.  The amount of colorful fish, coral, and sea creatures was breathtaking – better than any other place I’ve snorkeled.  For lunch we pulled up to dock alongside several other tour boats.  As we pulled in, Adam and Maura, the two ELFs who have already spent a year in Indonesia, sang a popular Indonesian movie song from beginning to end.  It was a huge hit with all the other boat operators.  I bet none of THEIR tour groups had ever serenaded the bay with Indonesian pop songs!
  • Rat in our room. My roomie throughout the trip, Amber, is a light sleeper.  During our first night in Pemuteran she awoke to some rustling in our gazebo, 165 and finally woke me up when she couldn’t stand it any longer.  After a few moments of listening, we both heard the distinctive pitter patter of little feet under our bed, which brought us closer together – literally!  Sitting huddled in our bed behind the protective mosquito netting, we finally worked up the courage to get out and check under the bed.  Amber saw a rat.  We got a security guard.  He scoured our gazebo but found nothing.  Our little visitor must have left while we were getting help.  For the remaining two nights we made a point to search the room and batten down the hatches before retiring.  Eeek.
  • Volcano hike. Five of us braved an early morning wake-up to travel 3 hours via van AND ferry to climb Gunung Ijen on Java.  236 It took about 2 hours to hike to the top, but the fresh air was wonderful and the scenes awaiting us at the finish were worth it.  Very different from the volcanoes I visited in Costa Rica – more barren and rugged and rocky.
  • Batik workshop. In Padang Bai 3 of us enrolled in a half-day batik workshop.  This was totally up my alley.  The teacher didn’t speak much English so we didn’t fully understand the process until we were in the middle of each step, but it was a great way to spend our last afternoon in Bali, and I have a fun handmade souvenir as a result.  315337

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Recently got photos developed from my disposable waterproof camera, so here are a couple to share.  One is from a snorkeling tour where I saw a lot of green sea turtles.  The others are from a helmet diving tour.  Both great fun!

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homeward bound

I’m spending today in the San Francisco airport, waiting for my overnight flight back to New York. I loved teaching on the cruise ship and didn’t really want to leave. I’m definitely thinking of doing another contract in the future…

Just had to add a couple photos from the last tour I went on: snorkeling in Ketchikan.  It was a blast.  The drummer from the orchestra went with me.  This may have been even better than the whale watching tours!

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