When I first arrived in Jakarta, I spent the night with my new classmate Kat. We talked and joked as we dodged cars on our harrowing journey down the street to spend my friend Brent’s 10,000 IDR note on mango pudding. Our tradition is to give each other currency from other countries and thus to obligate each other to go there and spend it. The pudding (eaten with protein bars) was a worthy choice.
After we ate, Kat sat on the windowsill and serenaded me with her banjolin (a combination of a banjo and a mandolin). She is very much an artist, and she came here in part because she wishes to study the Gamelan Indonesian Orchestra. It is a beautiful kind of music with a great deal of cultural significance. For example, one cannot step over the instruments because they are believed to have souls and should be treated like friends. I really enjoyed talking with Kat and learning from her.
The next day, we all boarded our Garuda Indonesia flight to Yogyakarta. We were met by Hazelia, USINDO Jakarta’s staff, and we jumped into an impressive schedule of activities. We ate traditional food at nice restaurants, and stayed at Santika (a very nice hotel featuring traditional art performances in the lobby). We spent the next several days seeing Prambanan, Malioboro Street, Alun Alun Square, and The Sultan’s Palace. We also spent an entire day rafting through Goa Pindul caves and down the river nearby. Our guide Amrit was wonderful. He sang and pointed out sights as we floated leisurely along in a string of tubes. We stopped to swim under waterfalls, take pictures, and jump from the highest cliff I have ever jumped off of. Note to those who wish to cliff dive: IT HURTS! Stick with a pencil dive and avoid all cannon balls or belly flops.
An article could be written about each of our activities, but I have been too busy to do it. In my first week, I have already stumbled onto many events at UGM. One was, fittingly enough for my purposes, an art exhibit on emotions. It was put on by the Archeology Club because the students wanted to “do something different,” as they said. Exhibits included an exploration of emoticons, a brail-writing and reading station exploring emotional expression for the disabled, a cupcake decorating station, a station allowing people to listen to classic blues songs from the early 20th century, and a corner on “Expression of the Oppressed” displaying really creative representations of the oppression of the Indonesian Chinese.
Our first week of school was also full of language classes, lectures, electives, events, and socializing. Our language teachers, Pak Pri, Mas Thomas, and Sandy are all very patient, intelligent, and compassionate people. Sandy even speaks Chinese along with as many as six other languages. Our electives include Javanese Dance, Gamelan Indonesian Orchestra, Pencak Silat Martial Arts, Batik-Making, and cooking. I have yet to try the Javanese Dance, Batik-Making, and cooking, but I love the Pencak Silat. It turns out that I am not bad at it. It seems to have great stretches, lots of kicks, and Kung-fu-like hand motions. It is a fun and fast-paced workout.
My tutor, Ukky, is a strong and fascinating women with whom I can have many conversations about poetry, Islam, family life, and even Indonesia’s communist purges in the 60s. She is an English Literature student writing her thesis on Celtic mythology involving a female creator. Our time together flows with great ease!
So far, I love all of the students in USINDO. The five other students are Anna, Kat, Jonathan, Nicole, and Peter. They have many talents and interesting experiences, and are all well-traveled. Anna, my housemate, and I have had many conversations lasting well into the night. Among many things, she is observant, a good-listener, a vegetarian, a former-Bahai, and a GIS/Math Major studying coffee plantations. Additionally, she can whistle like no one I have ever met before. She whistled a perfect version of “Fiddler on the Roof” to me a couple of days ago. Needless to say, I was very impressed.
As you can tell, I am having a great time. I have been a little sick, but I am hopefully getting that out of the way now. My next entry describes my daily life in greater detail and will be followed by more frequent updates.