Friday, October 28, 2011

National Youth Pledge Day

    Maybe I mentioned before that every Monday there is a ceremony at school. We stand at attention like soldiers, solute our principle, recite the national ideology, sing two or three national anthem songs, listen to a lecture from a teacher or the principle, and watch as the student leaders of the ceremony march like robots. All of this takes place first thing in the morning, outside on the school courtyard/field, under the already sweltering sun.
    Today was National Youth Pledge Day, as I am told, and so there was of course a ceremony. This ceremony was at this track type court that's open to the public and within a short walk from the school compound. There were at least three different high schools represented, a group of uniformed soldiers, a very small marching band, students from middle school, and teachers; all of whom lined up in blocks of school and age, and stood at attention like soldiers during the whole ceremony. The choir was from my school and we (I was lucky enough to be allowed to sit with them) under a curtained tent near the open stage. On the open stage sat dignitaries of the city, I assume, and perhaps the principles of the schools. The whole thing was a much more intense version of the weekly ceremony at each school. This time a general read out the orders to solute and stand at attention, and he was very loud! Even though he had a microphone! And he would emphasize his orders by dragging out syllables, it was a little bit funny because of how dramatic he made it. Just saying. He would be like "SIAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAP" [which means "ready"]. It was seriously that long. Almost like he was yell/singing! :)
    At every formal occasion in Indonesia, and this is not a generalization but a statement that holds true to every formal occasion, there is food for at least the honored dignitaries. Thus the people on the stage and the choir got a little box of delicious, catered, Indonesian food.
   Something that was special about today was seeing some of the traditional dresses of the various cultures that make up Indonesia. When three military officers took turns reading Pancasila (the national ideology/propaganda, take your pick), behind them stood, in solidarity, couples [one male and one female, Indonesia is super hetero-centric] from maybe seven of Indonesia's cultures. There was a couple representing the Sunda, the Jawa, the Padung, the Kalimantan, the Sulawesi, and none of m friends could agree on what the other ones were.
   Everyone was very proud of the ceremony, my impression is that Indonesians like to impress people with ceremony but they don't exactly listen to the speakers or pay attention. One of the things that really dazzled my friends was this kind of marching brigade. A group of men and women [yay for an example of inclusiveness :) despite the fact that there were no women in the soldier block of attendees] marched out and sort of danced except like robots, and the big deal was that they were "one." One unit, one person. This reminds me of Pancasila, which I too am starting to memorize from hearing every Monday, the second tenant of which--when translated--is something like "One supreme national identity as Indonesians." Indonesia is made up of SO many different cultures, I think this instance really shows how much the government socializes the citizens to put a great deal of value on "being one [in the national identity]." I can see how the citizens buying into this theology/propaganda/idea (I don't know what to call it) really helps the country maintain a sense of unity, cohesion, and harmony despite widespread culture differences.
   Unfortunately I fear that my posts will be few and far between now because my internet connection at home is really not very good--even weaker because it's now rainy season--and I rarely have a good enough connection to type up a blog post. I'll try to drop by some wi-fi places more often, but when I'm there I'm with people who like to engage me in conversation... thus be my prob....
   On a more personal note, the biggest thing I'm struggling with here, so far, is the extent to which religion is a part of every day life. Today is Friday, the day when school ends early and students have religion class. At my school, there is only religion class for Muslims, so the other students have to wait for the teacher with a key to come and unlock the school gate. On Fridays, all Muslim students are required to wear baju Muslim, like a white linen shirt that's usually very delicately embroidered. Thus, when letting students out of the gate, the teacher pulls back any student wearing baju Muslim because they have to stay at school for religion class. Only my school is so strict, though--because the overwhelming majority of students are Muslim (in my class there are fifty students, two of whom are not Muslim), and I think because we are mainly funded by an Islamic organization. My point is only that literally every day of everyone's life, people are defined by their religion...there is no escaping it. And while maybe some people are fine with that, I know for a fact that I am not. I do not enjoy my personal beliefs being relegated to a category of government approved religions. It's not fun to have people assume that because I'm Christian, they can tell me how I should practice my religion. A couple of times I went to the Islam religion class and subsequently got a talking to from the only other student in my class who is Christian. He wanted me to promise not to convert and he is very insistent that I go to religion class with him (I went one time, but then I found out he is Baptist; not saying anything about Baptists, the religion class was just not my preferred expenditure of energy). He is convinced that all Protestant religions are the same, so I should just go to religion class with him. I don't think there's anything in the Book of Order about how my church should support me while I face this situation (hahaha, that's a very poor and cheesy joke that you will get if you identify as a Frozen Chosen [Presbyterian]).  What's frustrating about that is that my complex and long thought out beliefs are reduced to a label from a list of government approved religion labels that everyone is plastered with all the time. If this happened in the States, I would be totally pissed off that any one felt like they had the right to so adamantly insist that I follow my religion in a certain way. As it is I am certainly frustrated, but I also see clearly that my friend has grown up his whole life as being labeled with a religion that is a minority. People who are also Christians literally try to high-five me when they find out I am Christian. I'm sure that he's just as frustrated that I don't seem to want to be labeled with religion all the time--it is the norm for him. I am more than my religion, my beliefs don't fit inside the tenants and theology of any one defined religion, and I'm happy about that. I see very clearly now that I value spirituality over subscribing to a particular religion; I value constantly developing and reforming my own beliefs and theology; I believe that doubt and "straying from the path" are important to one's spiritual growth and discovery of identity/values.
    Oh, I have SO much more to say on this issue. I can't possible say it all before I'm completely devoured by the mosquitoes who are currently snacking on me.

   Next time I will explore my thoughts and questions about Indonesia's values of conservative dress and the double standard that exists between male and female discretion with regards to skin.
  In the mean time I'll leave you with some funny anecdotes:
-When my friends say "Cadbury" as in Cadbury eggs the chocolate, it completely sounds like they are saying "Get booty." So hilarious. You can't even imagine.
-The other day I had to have an intensive pronunciation training session with my class after someone asked me to please "Shit down..." when they meant to ask me to "sit down." Oh goodness.
-My friends wanted to learn American slang, so I taught them the first phrases I could think of. These included the expressions "She got a donk." "Shawtie is fly." and "I rolled up."
-The other night my sister asked me what kinds of music are traditional in America, I said Rap, country, tried to explain folk music/ blugrass (and then played her some Old Crowe Medicine Show), Jazz, and R&B. Then I acquiesced to her request to rap. My song of choice was "No Hands" by Waka Flocka Flame. :)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Just Feel Like Sharing

My sister asked me on my facebook wall what I do on weekends, if I spend them with my family or if I go to parties. I'm going to share the answer with everyone!
     So, the explanation needs a context:
     In Indonesia, most students go to school from Monday to Saturday...usually. At my school, I go to school Monday to Saturday from 7:00am until 1:30, except on Fridays when we get out earlier because that's prayer day, so all the Muslim students stay at school for prayer and religion class and the few other kids go to their various religion classes off school grounds (my school has two mosque/prayer rooms in the compound).
    Thus, I only have Saturday night and Sunday for my weekend plans. Lately my family goes to Jakarta pretty much every weekend because two of my sisters live there: one will graduate in the next two weeks and the other one is only in her first semester...but both of them are at Trisakti). This past weekend we went up for Sunday and went shopping for kebaya and batik! Since my older sister is graduating sebentar, we had to buy the appropriate formal attire..which for women in Indonesia is a kebaya and batik skirt and for men is a batik shirt and dress pants. I bought my first kebaya-batik ensemble! Yay! I feel so assimilated :)
Anyways, the weekends are really chill so far, but after my sister graduates my family has plans to take a weekend vacation to Pulau Seribu ("A Thousand Islands" but there aren't actually a thousand; located off the coast of Jakarta) and I'M SO EXCITED!
    I wear a uniform to school: Monday and Tuesday I wear a white-collared short-sleeved shirt, a blue tie, and a long blue skirt; Wednesday and Thursday I wear a long-sleeved, blue batik shirt with my blue skirt; Friday I wear the white shirt and tie again (because I'm Protestant, Muslim students wear baju Muslim: beautifully embroidered white linen long-sleeved shirts); Saturday I wear premuka: Scout uniform, brown quarter-length sleeves shirt and a brown skirt. Everyday all students must wear black shoes and tall, white socks, but I always wear my ankle-length socks because I don't have long socks and I'm the bule, so no one really holds me to the dress code rules, hahaha. When I get home from school, I wash my face because there is so much pollution in the air all the time! The water is actually polluted too, so it's nonpotable...sometimes it smells bad...this is the same water that I use to bathe.... :( But it's all good in the hood!!!! Then I change into house clothes (what I normally wear as pajamas) and unless I go out somewhere to eat or hang out, I don't wear what, in the States, would be considered "real clothes" (i.e. not formal at all). When I get home I pretty much just hang out, it's really chill...I like to read my little Lonely Planet book about Indonesia; study; bother my sister when she gets home from her school (which is a different, more expensive high school than mine, so they get out of school around 4 pm); watch TV that I don't really understand quite yet--although I've totally got the cheesy commercial jingle lyrics down....because they're only like three words ahaha--though I do understand more and more everyday...oh! I've come to love Shaun the Sheep, so funny without an words at all!!!
If my sister isn't home yet, or she's doing her homework, then I like to bother my older cousin with discussions about cultural differences, or just stupid questions like did he already eat and what did he eat...these days I announce even the most trivial things...such as what I ate for the last meal, or if I'm about to go brush my teeth...anything to practice my Indonesian! He is really good about teaching me new words and being patient with my language difficulties.
My parents are really hard workers, so when they are at home, they are tired and hang out in their air-conditioned room or they relax in front of the TV. Although in the evening they like to come and hang out in Devi's room....I join in and so do my cousins sometimes and it's quite the little bonding time.
I LOVE MY FAMILY. They are pretty dang sweet. I can share anything with my sisters, and my parents are the same (except there's still a language barrier between us because they can't speak any English at all). My younger sister is the one I hang out with most and she is just as silly and joking as I am...except she has a lot more homework than I do so she has to focus and be serious more family likes to jokingly mock each other about appearances. Especially me, my older cousin, and Devi all like to play around and call each other ugly and crazy in various languages ("gila"=crazy in Bahasa Indonesia; "goreng"=ugly in Bahasa Sunda; etc)....of course it's the most light-hearted of light-hearted joking...mostly I think it's just a good icebreaker for when the language barrier prevents more meaningful conversation.
    Since it's so extremely hot here all the time, Indonesians shower at least twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon between three and five...since I can't think of anything else to share I'm now going to go engage in the culturally mandated hygienic practice...
Feel free to email or facebook me if you have any specific questions to which you want answers and I'll respond in a blog post.
Love from Indo,

Saturday, October 1, 2011

1 Oktober !

    So, I'm just going to plunge in the water, here, today I had some serious cultural exchange dialogue goin' on, ya'll; it was so interesting because at the same time I learned about Indonesian values, I also saw my own values more clearly defined. Today I went to SMAN 1 (I attend SMAN 3) for a Debate Competition in English. Since I'm clearly already fluent, I went as support and was a chatty spectator with my friends. The topic of the debate was "Brains vs. Beauty*" (the arguments presented are a whole nother blog post but I'll cover that some later) which somehow led my friends and I to talking about the term "free sex." The term in Indonesian is "seks bebas" which of course literally translated means "free sex" but a more accurate translation is "sex before marriage."
    The first time someone asked me if there is "free sex" in America, I had to work hard to stifle my immature internal only makes me laugh because the implications are very ironic.. free sex implies that there is sex that must be purchased and my friends were asking me if there was free sex in America, so the misconstrued interpretation of the the question implies that in Indonesia one must always pay for sex while in America its always free. Of course, Indonesia is a very conservative country and extramarital relations and sex before marriage are highly frowned upon, so when juxtaposed with reality, this misconception is a hilariously sloppy abstract painting. It's hard to explain the social expectations and accepted behaviors of a country as intensely diverse as U.S.--only in Indonesia have I come to realize just how diverse the U.S. actually is...and right now I'm measuring this purely on the fact that in the U.S. when I saw someone who was obviously from a different heritage/race/skin color, it was nothing extraordinary because everyone in the U.S. is really a foreigner (except the Native Americans) included. But I ended up telling them exactly how I personally perceived the situation (and I tried to explain that it was only my specific perception, filtered through my life experiences and sub culture): there are head-butting opinions about sex before marriage, all the flavors of religion in the U.S. that I can think of discourage if not forbid sex before marriage, teenagers are especially inclined to get caught in the cross fire because they get mixed messages about how much freedom they should be able to have in that aspect of their lives and in the end I think it's mostly just the teenagers decision--though not always an informed one--of how he or she wants to live his or her life.
[As a side note, this is not to say that there's isn't prostitution in Indonesia; in clarifying the implications of the term my friends were using, we had a sorrowful side conversation about young girls--the example they gave was an 11 year old---who sell their bodies to help their families pay the bills...]

    This little girl's story led us to talk about yet another pivotal cultural difference. I'm under the impression that in the States, although religion is frequently invoked ("God Bless America"), we value having an education more than we value subscribing to a particular religion. In talking with my friends, they told me that they valued education but that if they had to pick, religion is most important because it gives morality and values peace. I realized that if I had to pick, without hesitation I can say that I believe education is more important than religion. When I think about it, I'm living out that belief right now...because I've traveled as far away from my home as possible to devote a year of my life to educating myself with first-hand experience, and I'm sitting here sweating in front of the computer with painfully slow internet, being devoured by mosquitoes, to share my knowledge and educate you. All this because my life experiences have shown me that religions differ and interpretations of ancient texts can be reinterpreted and misconstrued and cause crusades and endless conflict, but education can show people that in essence all human beings have a common thread; through education we learn that even though people may have different cultures and contexts and languages and hopes and dreams and life goals, all those differences don't make a person bad, just different. It's been my experience that while peace and love are the goals of most religions, real harmony/enlightenment comes from learning to understand one another... that's not to say that religion doesn't catalyze learning sometimes, but religion isn't the necessary component to harmony... 

*Pretend that this is a really well written transition*

Randomness about my life:
 -Everyday I ride to school on the back of a Scoopy or motorcycle with my cousin (not the young one, now my older cousin lives with us, too because he works at a bank here). I don't wear a helmet and it was really scary at first but now I'm getting used to it and the other day I even texted on my phone while holding on! Maybe that's not a good development according to my parents, and they'll probably freak out when they read this, it's actually just another sign that I'm assimilating well. :)
-I like to eat with my hands, the traditional Indonesian way! I'm still trying to master the art of eating rice with my hands, but I'll get there!!
-There are cats everywhere!
-It's HOTTT!!!!!!!!!
-I like to drink coconut juice right out of the coconut.
-I like when my food is wrapped in banana leaves instead of packaged in plastic
-The power will randomly go out for about a minute, it's no big deal.
-There are little street vendors everywhere and they sell delicious food and drink that they make in their portable mini kitchen
-Everyone stares at me ALL the time, everyone knows my name! When I ride anywhere on a motorcycle/scooter, when people spot my pale skin and bright hair, they yell out "bule!" (foreigner). And then they recite carefully prepared English phrases like "I love you!" "What is your name" "Where are you going" "Hey Barbie!" and my favorite "I like it!" (Like what, I don't even 
-The other day I was waiting outside of my school for my cousin to come pick me up and I was standing in the sun so this vendor lady that I do not know called me by name and showed me a nice seat in the shade. I sat next to some Indonesian school girls who were curious about me and the vendor lady proceeded to tell them my name, my neighborhood, how long I'd been here, how long I'm staying here, what class and grade I'm in, and even my Indonesian name (different from my real name). It freaked me out. Just a bit.
-People like to take pictures with me, make it their profile picture, and then add me on facebook. It's kind of adorbs.
-I'm freakishly tall everywhere I go, pretty much. I tower over my friends at school.
-Almost the second thing people will say when I meet them is how beautiful I am, they say I look like Barbie and they compare their skin to an extent I'm flattered by this but I must admit that I'm also quite disturbed. On TV I always see commercials for skin whitening products, FREAKY! They show the paint strip--like for teeth whitening commercials--and then they show a girls face progressively getting whiter. While it means that everyone loves my pale skin and encourages me to protect it by staying in the shade and wearing sun screen, it also means that the beauty psyche of an entire nation values a standard that is unnaturally can't actually change your skin color...and it bothers me that dark skin is considered ugly...all my friends envy my pale, vein-revealing skin...which makes me so upset--society should affirm that they are naturally beautiful! There opinion of themselves is tainted by some stupid beauty standard that is completely flipped in the States. I can't even fully put words to why this bothers me so profoundly. I will work on processing my thoughts and reflecting more.
-So much sugar all the time! And everything is fried! I am so getting fat! The other day my mom pinched me above the collarbone and told me that when I arrived I was really skinny and it was ugly, but now I' fat and sexy! AHAHAHAH, SO FUNNY!
-I'm so white that the other night, when my cousin left his phone playing music all night and woke me up with it so I went in his room to make him turn it off, my other cousin saw me and got the fright of his life because he thought I was a zombie or Indonesian vampire...since I'm so white... HAHAHA
-Even before that, on Leburan break, I was sleeping in the same bed as my sister and had a dream I was swimming. I kicked and talked in my sleep and my sister got scared and went to go sleep with our mom because....I'm so white I looked like a zombie! HAHAH :)
 Now, I gotta wrap it up, I'm being eaten alive by mosquitoes and it is SO HOT at the computer desk.
 Uh, malas, maybe later I'll talk about the debate :)
Oh, and I'm really happy because maybe in November I will go to Kalimantan! Wahoo!

Oh, and now I'm going to go to a bonfire at my younger sister's school! Yay!