Greetings from Jogjakarta in central Java!
I have had an amazing time here. I arrived this past Sunday on an uneventful flight from KL and was picked up at the airport by my wonderful host Debiyani, another Couchsurfing devotee.
She made me feel right at home in her neighborhood (Karangkajen) and her home, where she lives with her nephew who is doing a course in motorbike repair (a huge industry in this part of the world where most people ride motorbikes and they are not traded in or thrown away for a long time). Debi works in the furniture export and shipping business and is a supplier for some Dutch guy who has a business on the Dutch end of things too.
I haven't written much lately because I had been so busy with my Indonesian language classes! Starting Monday morning I had been doing intensive one-on-one language classes about 5 hours/day at the Puri Bahasa language school. I had 3 teachers: Dian, Asih, and Lanny, who were all very good. Debiyani tried to make me speak Bahasa only at home, and in various interactions (to buy my airplane ticket, to order and read the menu in restaurants, etc) so it was kind of like an immersion boot camp! I think my language skills blossomed by leaps and bounds (not sure what my teachers and Debi thought;-) Luckily I had some background because of the number of previous trips I've done in this region, but never any formal training before now. I've just gotta say: any language that uses the term "mati lampu" to describe power outages, I am a fan of!
I don't know how 5 hours a day of classes (and an hour for lunch) made me so damn tired but I was passing out at night and then woke up strangely early to do homework. Not my normal self, but, that's life. I think it was the sheer expenditure of mental energy. It could also have been the noise from the roosters and the mosque...
My final exam (for myself, planned by myself) involved a true test of the important things: taking busses by myself downtown and going shoe-shopping, of course! This did not result in any shoes being purchased, but I was fully able to communicate in the 6 or 7 shoe stores I tried, in complete sentences, about how I wanted size 39 but not the color they had available, etc., etc. It was great fun. And no trouble with the public transit system. I was even able to get a surly teenager to move over so that I could sit down -- by asking him in the right language, instead of playing the game of charades that would previously have been necessary. Both would have worked, probably, but this was just endlessly more satisfying. No other redheads on the bus system, needless to say. I also tried "es teler" downtown -- like the Malaysian ABC but in addition to the shaved ice and condensed milk, this time there was a combo of avocado, mango, and young coconut. Truly yum!
Also interesting was my experience at the travel agent's, buying a ticket to Bali. There are three airlines that go from Jogja to Bali: Lion Air (apparently a step beyond "not recommended" -- I asked people why they were not good and I was told things ranging from "they are always delayed" to "They fall from the sky". Apparently in Indonesian, they don't use the term "plane crash" -- "falling" is enough to suggest what the problem is. (For those who care, it's "pesawat jatuh"). When I asked people if Lion Air (see http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2009/10/07/lion-air-moves-upgrade-flight-safety-standards.html) was the worst ever, they said "Oh, no, the worst ever is Adam Air!" Apparently Adam Air was so much worse than even Indonesian airline standards (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_Air) that it was shut down last year.
What does that leave me with? Mandala Air (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandala_Airlines), which hasn't crashed since it bought newer AirBusses, vs. Garuda, which is the national airline which just had its international ban on flying into the EU lifted, and costs double. Sounds a little like damning with faint praise. ;-) Wish me luck on Mandala, though the idea of flying on a mythical bird did not sound bad.
Most of my other extracurricular events were done wtih Debi, who was incredibly kind, patient with my elementary-school language level, willing to drive me just about anywhere, fun to be with, and who feels like family and treated me as such :) We had an outing on Wednesday when we were going to drive to Solo (actually called Surakarta -- another old city with lots of historical background, about an hour and a half away). But we got sidetracked by a parade! It was going on to celebrate the birthday of the city - founded in 1756, and the center of Javanese culture. For more info, I refer you to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yogyakarta_%28city%29...
Anyway there were all kinds of groups marching with their special attire and traditional clothing, marching bands from schools, and so on! And I was, once again, the only redhead in the bunch. Despite the fascinating marching groups and all the traditional costumes and such, somehow *I* was the object of interest in my boring jeans and nonboring strange colored skin and hair. As a result multiple people wanted to interview me for papers and websites and such about what I thought of Jogja's birthday and the festivities. I felt like an embarrassed idiot -- what is one *supposed* to say on such an occasion?
We then went on to Solo, where we sadly missed the Sultan's Palace ther (otherwise known as the Kraton) because it closes at 2. But the parade was totally worthwhile. We met up with Debi's friend Sari and her 6 year old daughter Finfin who live there. Finfin had spent her vacation with her grandparents in the country, and her mother's primary concern seemed to be how "brown" she was -- perceived as a big problem and not ok since she is half-Chinese. To me she just looked like a very normal cute,lovely Indonesian kid! Various other people at various points in time have commented to me that their skin is "too brown" and that mine is somehow good because it's ... well ... pink, I don't want to say white because it's actually not *white*. Boy, if only I had mastered enough language skills to respond fully to them that my take on this weird preference for light skin is most likely it's sadly the result of multiple centuries of domination by European outsiders and therefore internalized prejudice ... I think I will have to return for the intermediate level class before I can communicate such complexity. But yeah, definitely sad to see how popular "bleaching creams" are in Asia. So unnecessary.
Anyway we saw the new downtown city-walk which was just finished a month ago and very cool, full of the old Javanese masks that were fun to pose with. We also went to this amazing area where they have about 70 food carts with different specialties. The ones I was told I had to try that were Solo-specific were bestik, a very lovely, not even very spicy beef stew, and then for dessert something called srabi -- like pancakes with different things in them like banana and chocolate.
Other culinary adventures with Debi included absolutely amazing street-warung food like fried gourami (a wonderful fish),
and a restaurant called "Iga Sapi Sagam" or something like that -- specializing in cow ribs with barbecue sauce She knows how to pick the best innocent looking little food places and they are already delicious! (I hope I have an equivalent talent in the Bay Area.)
One more outing with her was to Parangtritis Beach, south of the city. I have to confess, the main reason I was particularly interested in going there was that the name of it sounds like an infectious or inflammatory problem since it ends in "itis". This was a dark sand beach with high waves, not safe for swimming, but still absolutely lovely to walk on.
I will miss Debi and hope to have her come visit the US one day! I couldn't have had a better time and was sad to have to move on!