A Retreat to the West

I suppose after seven and a half months here, I’ve grown quite accustomed to the daily experiences many back home might find alien and abnormal. And while this increased level of comfort, or perhaps acceptance, this decrease in the estrangement of life, is certainly a characteristic of progress in my function as a Peace Corps volunteer, it’s also led to a lack of inspiration in my blogging. What three or four months ago may have seemed like sweet delicious bloggable gold, now just feels, to be frank, a bit mundane. So as you’ll see, the blog that follows isn’t about decorative weddings, off-roading around volcanoes, or colorful national parades but instead about a trip to the big city.

I woke up Saturday morning at 4am, excited for the day to come, and intent on being on time. Unfortunately, although I may have been early to arrive at the  airport, the plane which was to carry me across Java was more inclined towards jam karet (rubber time). My flight had been delayed two hours…in fact every flight in the airline had been delayed two hours. And as this seems to be the norm with domestic carriers here, I’m beginning to feel like “early” flights don’t actually exist and this whole delayed bit is some type of sham. But lucky for me, I was able to switch to the earlier flight (which now was to depart at my original time), emphasizing to the woman at the ticket window the importance that arrive in Jakarta before 1pm. Unlucky for me, this flight was to of course experience even further delays, forcing me to accept the fact that my girlfriend’s international flight would arrive in Jakarta before mine – leaving her just a tad stranded with no form of communication…oops…

After disembarking the plane in Jakarta, I quickly transferred to the international terminal, and of course Andrea was nowhere to be found. And as I had no way to contact her, no meeting place whatsoever, and really just no plan…I began to walk around  just hoping things would turn out for the best (something I often find myself doing here when things don’t go according to plan). Thirty minutes of wandering later, I spotted three Indonesian men pushing a large dolly full of bags, their faces beaming with smiles of contentment as

they had managed to hook some fresh meat to drive into the city for an exorbitant fee. Unfortunately for them, their mark was my girlfriend; and while Andrea was quite relieved to see my face, the drivers were soon disappointed to find that they had chosen the one buleh (foreigner) at the arrival gate who was meeting a Peace Corps Volunteer, infamous for our penny-pinching characteristics. No good sir, we will not be paying you four times the normal fare.

If my humdrum village activities appear more exciting through the eyes of readers back home, surely the roles are reversed in regard to my trip to Jakarta. Here West Java took the back seat, as my priorities tended to lie within those activities associated with a more distant West. James Bond, air conditioning, FAST internet, salsa and guacamole, tomato basil pasta, holding hands in public, popcorn, rooftop pools, trail mix, sun chips, hot showers,  not one bowl of nasi putih (white rice), and you guessed it…toilets…the flushing kind…those ones you sit on….you know…they come with that toilet paper stuff. Basically all of the things I forgot I’d missed.

The second day in Jakarta, we made our way to Ancol, a beach in the Northern district of the city, fully stocked with amusement parks, water parks, and aquatic life. Well we skipped the amusement park due to a question of safety regulations, and passed on the water park as much of the water in the surrounding area was not such I would wish to submerge my body in, but Sea World I can do. Unrelated to the Sea Worlds found in the US, Sea World Indonesia was a nice little aquarium – our favorite part being the 80m long underwater tunnel.

The next day, we headed the opposite direction, towards South East Jakarta to Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (or Beautiful Miniature Indonesia Park), which is in essence exactly what it sounds like, a miniature representation of Indonesia. The park was developed in the 70s by President Suharto’s wife Siti Hartinah to share the diversity and richness of Indonesia.

Pretty neat stuff, this park. Basically it’s like Disneyland but with less baby strollers cuffing at your heels and long lines of sweaty overweight families garbed in overpriced cartoon inspired caps. Adventure Land is Papua and Tomorrow Land is East Java. You’ll find no rides aside from the rickety train that slowly tours the premises, but do not fear…there is a monorail. And let’s be realistic, we all always thought the monorail was the coolest part. Food is still overpriced (relatively speaking), but rather than churros, lukewarm cheese pizza, and $5 Dasani; one finds fried rice, chicken satay, and fresh coconut water or hot tea.

Each province and region is represented by to-scale size replications of the houses and pavilions found in that area. Entering each house, one is often met by a trinket salesman, urging you to purchase some overpriced key chains relevant to the scene; his only company, a family of manikins outfitted in region-specific traditional dress. Really it’s a great way to get a sense of Indonesia’s diversity, but as it truly is a lot to swallow, and as the blistering heat lends no encouragement, I wouldn’t recommend attempting to conquer the entirety of the park in one go.

As for village life, quite a bit really has changed. Regarding my school, Lilik has a newfound sense of inspiration and motivation after participating in the counterpart conference at In-Service Training. Things just seemed to click for her during one of the sessions as she turned to me and whispered, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Shane. We must change our school.” Upon return, we’ve begun lesson planning for 1-2 hours a night, 3 or 4 nights a week (often by her request). We’ve started and ended our classes with accordance to the schedule (despite the reluctance and obstruction of other faculty members) and after a thorough revamping of classroom policies, discipline, and organization; student behavior, attendance and participation has improved significantly. Furthermore, the new Cross-Country Team I’ve decided to establish will hold their first practice this coming Monday; and our English Conversation Club has been meeting regularly for 3 weeks now. But school isn’t all that has changed, so have the seasons. The rainy season has arrived with daily pours turning many of the rolling dirt hills to young green knolls, as well as introducing an environment viable for a new variety of bugs for me to slay, spare, or snub upon opening my bedroom door.

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4 thoughts on “A Retreat to the West

  1. Great entry! Glad you got to spend time with your lovely girlfriend. I remember those first times back to Bangkok from where I worked was quite a culture shock.

  2. Hi Shane! I loved reading this post; all of your posts ( I had missed them!). We will be thinking of you and wishing you were here for Thanksgiving this coming Thursday!
    I will take photos xoox Love, A.C.

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