Friday, September 29, 2006

Key Decisions

My local Internet cafe is playing "The Final Countdown," while someone is throwing up very loudly in the bathroom. Flashes of GOB, anyone?

I'm going home. Too bad I can't watch Arrested Development there; maybe I'll convince the maids to watch a pirated version of Snakes On a Plane with me instead.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Purple

Operating in a foreign culture and language, or at the very least a slowed-up, watered-down, turned-around version of my own language, means that I very often find myself losing hold on certain parts of my personality. It's hard, for instance, to be sarcastic when one's conversational partner isn't sure what is being said in the first place. It's hard to convey a picture of a relaxed, liberal Mormon, relative to the norm, when no one has any idea of the actual norm. It's hard to seem smart with the vocabulary and grammatical capacity of a nine year old suffering from Broca's aphasia.

One of the most disconcerting examples of this personality loss, at least for a generally level-headed person like myself, is the wild mood swings. On a daily basis, Indonesia offers unique new experiences and opportunities for curiosity and wonder and personal growth and all that tourist-brochure jazz; on that same daily basis, though, it offers unlimited petty frustrations and irritations. Caught between these poles, I sometimes feel like I'm catapulted back to the age of 15, subject to the slings and arrows of all manner of new, startling hormones. (The major case of acne I've developed since being here does little to alleviate that feeling.)

For the most part, I'm happy here, but most of the time that "happy" is not quiet contentedness but an average between ecstasy and misery, with the scales tipped in a positive direction. Last Saturday, for instance, I began the day feeling euphoric, watching a parade of small children randomly banging drums to celebrate the beginning of Ramadan, but quickly swung into exhaustion and depression, mostly based on the fact that the weather was hot and I was thirsty. (What can I say? My needs are simple.) Throughout the rest of the day, I experienced everything from the transcendent (much as I hate Thoreau and Emerson and everything associated with them, the Javanese trance dance I watched requires the word) to the downright annoying (trying to make my way through the mall mostly just left me thinking, "Go ahead, move at a glacial pace. You know how that thrills me.").

Perhaps what I'm trying to say is better symbolized by my train of thought while riding through traffic on the back of my friend's motorcyle: one second all I can do is grin widely and think "Wheeeeee!", but the very next second that grin is a grimace, and I'm trying to remind myself to breathe, while thinking, in a panic, "Holy shit, woman, that bus was two inches away! Did you even look???"

Emotions that roller coaster like this leave me breathless, tired, and not a little peeved at myself. I'm not used to it, after all. My feelings can typically be handily tucked away into a pocket somewhere, or easily suppressed by reading Boethius or doing a math problem. Here, half a world away from my copy of "The Consolation of Philosophy," I have to take other emergency measures: first, purchase and consume every chocolate bar for sale in the local grocery store (this, luckily, for my future case of type 2 diabetes, is not that much chocolate); second, turn on Radiohead, Okkervil River, or Sufjan Stevens; third, spend several hours memorizing vocabulary lists. It doesn't get much more soothing than that.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Let's Study English Using Our Respective Idiolects

The above is a title of a "teach yourself English" type of book I found once at a bookstore here. I was rather bothered by this title: first, it's not exactly the catchiest of phrases, and one rather wonders what less-than-savvy marketer let it get past (I mean, it's not as if LSEUORI even makes a memorable acronym!), and second, do we really want everyone studying English using their respective idiolects? I think not. What would English be like if we just, willy-nilly, continued to let me egregiously mispronounce "caricature"? What if no one stopped Alea from misinterpreting basic English syntax? Just imagine the chaos!

In any case, I've seen plenty of examples of English around here that put the "idio" in "idiolect." This is to be expected in a non English-speaking country; Egypt had some great examples, such as my personal favorite, a T-shirt that read "I'M NOT GOING TO PROCLAIM VICTORY OVER THE GREAT SATA SIMLPLY BECAUSE MY GEEK CORPS MANAGED TO MADOC THE NASDAQ SYSTEM." (Yes, those capital letters were on the T-shirt.) So far I've been amused by such gems as misspelled dirty words on supposed "hardcore" T-shirts and bumper stickers, strange phrases on notebooks ("I Love Pig"), and trendy little teen lit novels called "I'm Not Bitch!" and "Vagina's Dilemma." (This last, upon further investigation, turned out to be a nickname for the novel's heroine, Varah Ghita Nabila.)

Yesterday, though, took the cake (so far). Wednesday is my day off, and yesterday I spent it lazing about the house of an Indonesian friend. She picked me up early in the morning and drove me to her house, where we then chatted, ate food, watched her young nephew run crazily around the house, ate some more food, and...well, you get the picture. To combat the real heat of the day, we spread pillows on the floor and collapsed to watch a movie. The film du jour, apparently, was a pirated version of "The Da Vinci Code," with a dark, fuzzy picture, poor quality sound, and terrible English subtitles. I couldn't really understand what the characters were saying, and couldn't even rely on the subtitles to fill me in. They included such dubious renderings as "shoot go!" for "fire away" and "so correct your liver" for "your heart is true," and, even more bizarrely, "I in shoot, and I is soybean cake bleed" for "I have been shot, and I am bleeding." I don't know what English word sounded like "soybean cake" to that poor subtitler, but I have to admit it certainly spiced up the film.

(I'm sorry, Ron Howard, but that's a sad commentary on your film. Not even Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, and Paul Bettany, some of my favorites, could salvage it. I think you would have been better off just sticking with "And now the story of a mysterious family that lost everything, and the one professor that had no choice but to put it all soybean cake together.*")

*Props, as always, to Misaneroth.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Take That, Everyone Over 30

From a recent twelfth grade student presentation: "Aging is the process of becoming not useful."

I think she meant "youthful," but I kind of like it better this way.

Foreign or Just Stupid? Act II

In a warung, or food stall by the side of the road, my host mother handed me a plate of food. "This is called nasi ruwet," she said, in English. "That means 'complicated rice' in Javanese. We call it 'complicated' because there are so many ingredients."

"Interesting," I said, "but I didn't quite catch that word you used to describe the rice. It's a word I've never heard before, after all. Can you repeat it slowly so I can remember it?"

My host mother leaned forward to make sure I could see her lips, and said, very carefully enunciating each syllable, ""

Who Like Many Indonesians Only Has One Name

Nearly any newspaper article about Indonesia will, at some point, include the phrase "who like any Indonesians only has one name," or, in some variations, "who like many Indonesians only uses one name." (Try me on this and see. I guarantee it.) I'm not sure why this is the accepted phraseology--perhaps Reuters releases it every so often, just to remind reporters never to stray from the formula--but you can try me on this and you'll see. I guarantee it.

It's true that many Javanese do only use one name. My school, though, being a Christian school, is attended mostly by ethnic Chinese students. (The ethnic Chinese minority tends to be Christian and rich, while the ethnic Javanese majoirty tends to be Muslim and poor. You can see why there's a lot of resentment.) In any case, the Chinese students usually have plenty of names: three, or four, or even five. The amusing thing is the type of name, though; as I've worked this week on memorizing the names of my students, or, at the very least, on forcing them to wear nametags, I've noticed some basic groupings of names, which, since I'm obsessed with onomastic and assume that everyone else is equally interested, I'll share with you.

1. The traditional (Javanese) names. We do have a few ethnic Javanese students, with a few ethnic Javanese names. Thus, we have a Dewi and a Sri, a Hendra and a Nugroho. I've also encountered a wide variety of nicknames that sound like nonsense syllables to me: Dede and Jojo and Bowo. With these kids, I peek at their nametags.

2. The traditional (Biblical) names. It's a Christian school, so one should expect Christian names. My classes are filled with Andrews, Stephens, Davids, Esthers, and Marthas. They pronounce them a little differently, but the kids don't seem to mind if I don't roll the "r" in Andrew.

3. The traditional (American) names. I'm curious about these ones--why, exactly, do they have these names?--but I'm always happy to see them, as it's much easier for me to pronounce and remember names like Jane and Melissa and Edward.

4. The traditional (Russian) names. These ones confuse me. Why on earth, in Semarang, Java, Indonesia, do I have students named Ivan, Alexei, Sonia, and Natalya? Is this some sort of crazy Russia-China-Indonesia Axis of Generally Disagreeable, or were their parents just reading too much Dostoevsky?

4. The nontraditional (Biblical) names. These Christians tend to be a little more adventurous in selecting Biblical and saints' names; I have an Obed and a Nehemiah, a Bonifacius and a Bernard, a Yehezkia and an Abednego. I dig these kids; I mean, who can't like someone named Abednego? What's more, I even have, in one eleventh grade class, a certain tall and solemn boy, always seated near the back of the classroom, who answers to the name "Christ."

5. The nontraditional (American) names. Everyone's heard stories about Chinese foreign exchange students in the States who adopt bizarre English names, thinking they're normal. (I have, at least, and so I will assume, once again, that everyone shares my experiences.) Kaneeneenie, for instance, had a roommate who went by "Phyllis." Alea has a friend of a friend (FOAF) who chose "Mitzie." My school has its fair share of that type as well, and I'm finding that it's hard to keep a straight face meeting students named "Vienna," "Antartika," and "Queenina." (She goes by "Queenie." Is she a Berenstein Bear?)

The prize so far, though, goes to a pair of tenth grade boys in one of my classes, who sit next to each other and are clearly best friends: Hans and Franz. Now, if, like my students, you've never seen the old SNL sketches, you won't appreciate the self-control it took for me not to laugh and instantly call them "girlie men." It was tough, but I succeeded. I think congratulations are in order.

(I did not, however, successfully resist the temptation of laughing and instantly saying, "I'm going to PUMP [clap] you up." I think the students were confused. Then again, they don't really speak English, so confusion is pretty much the default in the classroom.)

Sexier Than Television

I've always felt a bit like a local celebrity here: people frequently turn and stare as I walk down the street, surprised by this blond white giant in their midst, and the teachers at my school always know what I've been doing in my spare time, based solely on the local gossip. ("Hey, my aunt's friend's maid said she saw you in the grocery store yesterday, buying shampoo. Why were you buying shampoo?")

Now, though, that status is somewhat deserved: I was on TV!

I'll give you a second to digest this new info before I admit that it really wasn't cool enough to warrant that exclamation point. There's a channel here, run by one of the local universities, that has a weekly program highlighting a local high school. Last Friday was my high school's turn, so of course they brought me along, mostly to show off: they have a native speaker of English(!), and one from America at that(!) And look! She's tall! And blond! And obviously foreign!

(If I'm not careful here, I'll get a swelled head. What can I say? I'm a hot commodity.)

This was an hour-long program, in which we mostly sat and advertised the school to the announcer, a very perky Indonesian Kelly Ripa. I managed, in that awkward yet charming way of mine, to get half my face into the background shot while some tenth grade girls played the violin and sang at the opening of the program; I then managed, even more awkwardly, to look at the wrong camera at these moments, so that only the whites of my eyes showed. I'm sure the viewers at home were confused and repulsed, as I must have looked like some sort of Creature from the White Lagoon.

I also managed to wear the same color as the announcer, so that by sitting next to each other we seemed to blend into one giant mass of pink. (This fact is not as surprising as it sounds, since roughly half the clothes, bags, and shoes sold in any stores here are that particular color. Coral: it's so hot right now!) What's more, I look even whiter than normal, since the glare of the cameras washed me out. Everyone else got to wear makeup to counteract this effect, but they didn't have any makeup that was white enough to even approximate my natural color. (This, too, is not surprising, as my skin tone is known in the business as "extra ivory." I'm serious.)

Mostly, though, the program was dull. I answered a few questions about the school and my role within it, but since both the questions and responses were in English, I suspect I could have said nearly anything I wanted without much ado. The announcer clearly didn't understand what I was saying; as I talked, very slowly and clearly, she got that glazed "it's all Greek to me" look in her eyes, and several times, as I talked, she attempted to cut me off in the middle of a sentence. (One would think that intonation would be enough. Or perhaps, say, pausing? Not for Ms. Perky Smile, though.)

So that's my grand debut. I think the other teachers at my school were much more excited about the whole thing than I was; on Monday after the program, I was mobbed in the teacher's lounge, and beset with comments like, "My friend's sister's boyfriend saw you on TV! Why were you on TV?" I guess I'd better just get used to fame.

(PS: Five points to the first person who can, without using Google, name the song referened in the title.)

Attention, Please!

[Live Nobly Or Die a Martyr]

I would like to take this opportunity to encourage all the residents of Semarang to live nobly. Thank you.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Note to Self

Do not (NOT!) eat very spicy and possibly dirty food before embarking on a three hour car ride. Any toilet found in gas stations in central Java is bound to be squat, dark, dirty, and definitely without toilet paper. The experience will be unpleasant, from begging your host parents to ask the driver to pull over, no, not in fifteen minutes, not when we get to a more convenient place, but NOW! to having eucalyptus oil rubbed all over your back and stomach by an assiduous fifteen year old maid. Never, ever, ever again.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Welcome Aboard the U.S.S. Skin Cancer

Mom, you're going to hate me for this. In fact, it might be better if you just stopped reading here. I'm serious. Stop.

For the rest of you still paying attention, you can hear my confession: I have a blister. It's red and slightly swollen, it's about the size of a quarter, and it's right where my neck meets my collarbone. In looking at it, I am reminded of the time one of my roommates stayed out with a boy until 4 A.M. and then claimed that the red mark on her neck was a burn from her curling iron. (I sure hope my mom has followed instructions and skipped this post.)

To obtain this blister, though, I didn't have to get near either curling irons or boys. All I had to do was stay out in the sun. That's right: I'm blistered from a sunburn. Although this isn't the first time this has happened, and probably won't be the last, this is definitely the biggest and most painful sunburn blister of all time. (Since my mom isn't reading, she can't counter with the time she was burned so badly her eyes swelled shut.) Even worse, nearly every shirt I own brushes this spot, just so that I can never, ever forget this sunburn.

That's actually all I've got on this topic. I mostly wanted to complain and get a little pity. Indonesians, for the most part, are too confused by the entire concept of a sunburn to really be sympathetic. If you need any more reason to pity me, I got sunburned through my shirt a few weeks ago, and another time I got sunburned despite having applied SPF 45 three separate times. So come on, people, let's feel the love. Pity the fair-skinned fool, please.

Fun with H., My Favorite of the Maids

One of the features of having servants is that I don't get to do anything by myself; in fact, I think they deliberately hide things (such as the toaster) in order to prevent me from doing mundane kitchen tasks (such as toasting bread) by myself. If I even so much as start serving myself rice, a maid, or sometimes two, comes running into the dining room to do it for me. No! Heaven forbid I be forced to do something for myself!

The other day, the task at hand was cutting an apple. My attempt to do this alone stymied by the fact that knives are among those kitchen implements conveniently hidden from view. Admitting defeat, I wandered into the servant's kitchen to ask for a knife, only to realize that I couldn't remember the Indonesian word for knife. The ensuing conversation went something like this:

Hannah: Um, excuse you have something here for cutting an apple?
H.: Yes! Of course! Here.
Hannah: What is this called?
H.: (very slowly)"pisau."
Hannah: Thanks. Oh, and is there another one? My friend needs one too.
H.: (nods, gets another knife.)"pisau."

Sometimes I think people around here get "foreign" and "stupid" mixed up. In any case, I'll never again forget the word for knife.

(This is not nearly the funniest story I've heard about language mixups and knives; a former roommate once, while praying in Arabic, forgot the word for "atonement." Deciding to substitute a random word instead, she ended up thanking God for Jesus' knife. It's a good thing the Lord looketh upon the heart.)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Javanese Way

Java has one of the world's highest population densities (according to Wikipedia, if Java were an independent nation, it would be the eighth most densely populated nation in the world, at 863 people per square kilometer), so it's no wonder that Javanese culture values togetherness and cooperation. This means that doing things alone here is impossible, or, at the least, strange. If I sit in my room alone for too long, one of the maids knocks on my door to come hang out with me, or at the very least offer me strange desserts. If I want to exit or enter the house, one of the maids asks where I'm going, and one of the random boy servants opens the gate for me. If I walk around the city by myself (see previous post), at least 27 people ask me, in total shock, "kok sendirian?" or "why are you by yourself?" and offer me a ride.

This aspect of Javanese culture was brought home to me in painful force this morning. I wanted to go to a nearby bookstore, and I wanted to ride a becak. However, I didn't know how much was reasonable to pay for the distance I wanted to go, so I asked S., one of the maids. She didn't know, so she asked A., one of the drivers. A. told me a price (about fifty cents), and unlocked the gate for me. Since there was no becak waiting outside the gate, a rare occurance, A. and I waited for a few minutes. After no becaks approached, A. asked one of the random men sitting outside the door if they could find us a becak. (I don't know who these men are or what they do--at the very least, they're another byproduct of Java's overpopulation.) Random Man #1 called across the street to a group of becak drivers there. One young driver made motions as if he were going to bring his becak around, but then ended up shouting back across the street to some of the becak drivers sitting about a block down from the house. One old man then dragged his becak, against the flow of traffic, back to the house.

Let's take a look at that again. I asked S., S. asked A., A. asked Random Man #1, Random Man #1 asked Young Driver, and Young Driver asked Old Driver to come back and pick me up. It's like a giant game of Six Degrees from a Becak Driver.

Semarang On Foot

It's lucky, I think, that Semarang has a nice personality, because physically it has little to offer. Most of its architecture follows the always-in-vogue "decrepit modern" style, meaning that Semarang could probably make a fortune by selling itself to moviemakers as "Generic Southeast Asian City #22" and appearing in hundreds of films as Bangkok, Jakarta, Manila, or Hanoi. Although Semarang is the capital of the province of Central Java, it is mainly a commercial and administrative city, and is in no way the capital of Javanese culture. It boasts few real tourist attractions; the Lonely Planet Indonesia devotes two pages to Semarang, in contrast to its 12 pages about Yogyakarta or 10 pages about Solo, a city one-third Semarang's size. (More embarassing still, a good half a page of those two is devoted to detailing how to get to Yogyakarta or Solo from Semarang.) Moreover, the tourist guidebooks published by Semarang's regional government itself fail to elaborate on Lonely Planet's assessment; one pamphlet I saw today listed five tourist attractions, two of which were shopping centers and two of which were government buildings. The final pages of the pamphlet then listed the prices of trains, buses, and airplanes out of the city. (This seems like an admission of defeat to me; perhaps, if the city officials were so inclined, they could change the city motto to "From Here You Can Go Anywhere (In Central Java)!")

Today, though, determined to use my Wednesdays off in a productive manner (I get Wednesday off. Wednesdays. Fridays would be one thing, or maybe Monday, but what on earth can I do with Wednesday off?), I set off to be a tourist in Semarang. Armed with my Lonely Planet knowledge (too lazy to carry such a big book for only two pages, I simply memorized the info), I started walking. I could have accepted any number of a thousand and one offers to ride a becak, but I figured, what else would I do with my time but walk? I had, after all, an entire day to fill, and only about twenty minutes of actual tourist activity with which to fill it. So thus, like a mad dog or Englishman, I spent the hottest hours of the day, from about ten to three, slowly strolling down the city's biggest streets.

I had another reason for walking, of course. I hoped that, if I only moved slowly enough, I would see hidden depths and charms in this place, Yogyakarta's ugly (Chinese) stepsister. I might happen upon a tiny alley filled with cultural wonders, or maybe luck into an old traditional building of some kind, or maybe even find some hidden spot that Lonely Planet missed.

Well, there's luck and then there's luck. In my five hour excursion, I found, as Lonely Planet predicted, mostly shops and government buildings. I saw a few statues; Semarang, like Jakarta, boasts a rockin' collection of Communist era statues to heroes and battles. I stumbled into a public library, where a handsome young librarian in a pseudo-military uniform gave me water to drink and urged me to return again anytime. I wandered through the city's largest traditional market, terrified the whole time, as my host father told me a long story last night about being robbed at knife point there. (I escaped with camera, money, and life intact.) I fended off a thousand shouts of "hello Mister" and "I love you beautiful!" (Interestingly, I get fewer shouts and stares in Semarang than Jakarta. I'm not sure why.) All in all, no hidden gems, but a thoroughly enjoyable, if overheated, sort of day.

If you're good with counting, though, you may have noticed that Semarang has five tourist attractions, and only four are shopping centers or government buildings. The fifth puts those mundane sights to shame. In the colonial era, Semarang was also a provincial capital for the Dutch, who tried hard to build it up to rival Batavia (now Jakarta). Unlike in Jakarta, however, a lot of the old architecture still exists in an area of Semarang still known by the Dutch name, "Oudstad," or "old city." (The Dutch name, though common, is also commonly misspelled; it appears as outstadt, oudstad, outstad, and nearly any other variation you can think of.)

This old city, unlike the rest of Semarang, is really quite beautiful. It is bordered by a canal, slow and dirty, and crossing the bridge over the canal is like entering another world: the streets are wide and still paved with cobbles, the buildings are white and decorated with balconies and arches, and small white lampposts line the roads. The entire area looks, not surprisingly, like a faded tropical ghost of Amsterdam. The traffic slows a little in this neighborhood, so everything's a little quieter, and it's not hard to imagine this area two hundred years ago, with Dutch administrators and their wives riding the becaks, instead of sweating American tourists. I almost felt, passing the area's famous Gereja Blenduk, a Dutch church built in 1753, that I ought to be wearing white linen and carrying a parasol.

I'll save that for next time, I suppose. For now, though, I'm just pleased to know that Semarang can offer at least one decent tourist attraction for all those out there who need a reason to come visit me. (If for some strange reason you need another, I can guarantee that it's easy to find a train, bus, or airplane to Yogyakarta or Solo.)

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Master of My (Semantic) Domain

Sample questions I understood at church today:
  • Sister Hannah, would you mind sharing us with us your testimony of the importance of genealogical work, especially how it pertains to temple attendance?

  • Can you please play the opening song for us? We'd like to sing "Families Can Be Together Forever."

  • Who, truly, can doubt the Lord when he says that he will do nothing except he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets?
Sample questions I misunderstood at church today:
  • What is your full name?

  • How long will you be in Semarang?

  • What month were you born?
No prizes for guessing where I currently get most of my Indonesian language practice.

What the Other Half Thinks

In skimming through one of the English language textbooks at my high school, I found this lovely little piece about American culture, written as an introduction for Indonesian students studying there. Without further ado, "Tips For Newcomers to the U.S.A.":
  • Americans are very friendly and helpful.

  • They don't make you feel like a foreigner (though you feel!!!)

  • It's very easy to adjust with them. But they don't like people getting inquisitive or trying to get too personal in the initial phase of the acquaintance.

  • They dress casually and nobody bothers which dress you wear, etc.

  • They are fun-loving creatures and enjoy their free time. They look forward to weekends and plan their weekend activities in advance.

  • They are frank about their opinions.

  • They respect individual views and allow everyone to speak their own ideas on a subject.

  • They have a lot of patience. Especially when standing in line or while driving, nobody will try to jump before you in line. Most of them are very disciplined drivers. However this differs from State to State.

  • If they happen to come in your way or you happen to come in theirs, you will promptly hear an "Excuse me."

  • They need a lot of feedback while talking. You have to acknowledge/nod continuously. Otherwise they feel you are not interested in listening or are confused.

  • They gesure a lot and shoot some funny (or so it seems initially) phrases at you. It's a matter of "getting used to it."

  • They are very "proud" of their country. For them the universe is the United States. So never ever make fun or speak lightly about them or tell them they do not have any social/cultural background. You will not make more American friends that way.

  • Rhode Island is neither a road nor an island.
Discuss amongst yourselves.

Sources of Endless Fascination to L., the Youngest of the Maids

1. How white my skin is.

(Indonesians pay good money for whitening creams and powders and don't seem to understand that I don't like my white skin. Sunburns are clearly so a foreign concept.)

2. How my arms that are braceleted and white and bare are in the lamplight downed with light brown hair.

(Okay, maybe not in so many words, but the intent was there.)

3. How my legs are also covered with the same blondish hair.

(Slightly awkward follow-up question: "Is your hair that same color everywhere?" Um, excuse me? Did you just ask what I think you asked?)

4. How my face turns red at certain questions.

(With questions like "does the carpet match the drapes," I should think it's no surprise that I'm blushing!)

5. How big my feet are.

(As if, in a country where the largest shoes are two sizes too small, I needed reminding!)

6. How new "red freckles" keep appearing on my face--yesterday there was one on the right cheek, and today there's one on the left! Are those mosquito bites, or what?

(Yeah, kid, I'm 22 years old and still fighting pimples. Thanks for bringing that up.)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Hannah the Homewrecker

Everyone here is into text-messaging, since it's cheaper than calling, and so I too, I'm ashamed to admit, have fallen victim to this plague. Convenient as it may be, though, it offers many an opportunity for hilarity and confusion; the most recent came as a result of a text message from a friend from church. It was from an unfamiliar number, but I figured that since he had just gotten his phone repaired, either he had changed his number and was using someone else's. I texted him back just to say goodbye before I left Jakarta and that he should come visit me in Semarang if he ever had the chance. In reply, though, instead of hearing from my friend, I got this:

Sori ry g ad hp d tgal dri:istriny

This is extremely abbreviated Indonesian which, as far as I can tell, says (roughly) "sorry, you have a handphone that was left behind. This is from his wife."

I was confused; my church friend isn't married. I didn't respond for a minute or two, wondering what was going on. By way of explanation, I got this:

Knp g bls smsny tlg g usah sms sua mi sy klu g ad yg perlu tsk utk pengertiany y hannah ok

This, to my guess, means "Why did you respond to my text? Please don't text my husband. If you don't have what you need, ask for understanding, okay, Hannah?"

I was doubly confused now: who was this person? How did they know my name? I responded with a simple, "I'm confused," and a few seconds later received this next text:

Knp bingung g usa buang2 pls sms k hp suamisy ry bkan ljang dia ud menikah tlg jgn ggu r. tga sy okay sudah y

This means, more or less, "Why are you confused? You've already thrown around texts to the handphone of my husband. He's not single! He's already married! Please do not disturb my home! Okay? Enough, yeah?"

Wow. I realized at this point exactly what was going on--my friend must have borrowed someone's phone to text me, and I included my name in my original text, so this clearly wasn't someone I knew. I texted back that I was really sorry and that I must have had the wrong number, but still felt vaguely guilty, since that's exactly what I would have said if I were actually having a text-message affair with her husband. This poor husband is going to have a wife constantly suspicious of any trips to Semarang.

Oh well, though. I just hope that my texting Indonesian was poor enough that she could figure out that it was a genuine mistake.

Things I Never Thought I Would Do, Part 1

Sing "I'm a Little Teapot" to a classroom of 15 year olds.

(To be continued...)

Sunday, September 03, 2006

I Know the Church Is True

True, and sometimes funny or strange. A few choice moments from this week's services:

  • The Indonesian translation of the "render unto Caesar" passage in the New Testament, as far as I could tell, leaves something to be desired. It says, as far as I could tell, "Give to Caesar the things you should give to Caesar, and give to God the things you should give to God." Um, I'm sorry, Jesus, but that's not exactly helpful. I much prefer the smart-alecky, and yet also insightful, English version.

    (Note: my Indonesian is poor. Maybe I just read it wrong.)

  • The Indonesian translation of hymns is also interesting, and all my relatives who have visited can back me up on this. Indonesian words tend to be longer, in terms of syllable count, than English ones. (In fact, it's a feature of many Austronesian languages that native root words are always two syllables.) This poses no problems for ordinary translation, but it certainly does for hymns, where the syllable count actually matters. Essentially, this means that Indonesian hymns say a lot less than their English counterparts. Don't worry: the editing usually happens at the expense of flowery language, not doctrine, but it does make the hymns rather prosaic if back-translated into English. For example, this morning we sang "Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel." The chorus in English, as most of you know, is "Put your shoulder to the wheel/Push along/Do your duty with a heart full of song/We all have work/Let no one shirk/Put your shoulder to the wheel." The equivalent chorus in Indonesian is "Let us all work together, doing tasks with happiness." The translated name of the song is "The World Needs People Who Want to Work," which seems a tad stodgy to me.

    (I have not yet, unfortunately, discovered the Indonesian translation of "the world has no need for a drone," but I guess that's irrelevant post-1985.)

  • In my Sunday School lesson in Jakarta a few weeks ago, I looked around the room and noticed this scene:

    1. The branch president, former mission president, and second counselor in the branch presidency sitting in the front row and making longwinded comments

    2. a gaggle of old women sitting behind me and talking, quite obviously ignoring the lesson

    3. the guy next to me doing something on his PDA.

    If you needed proof that the Church is fundamentally the same everywhere, there you have it.

  • Not that differences don't exist, of course. A little old lady stood up in Relief Society this morning to bear her testimony. It was mostly pretty standard--"I know the Church is true, I know Jesus lives, I know God lives, I have a testimony of the living prophet today...[long pause]...wait, what's his name again?" A couple of the other old ladies tittered, and someone finally supplied the name. I'm pretty sure that's something that wouldn't happen at BYU.

    (I mean, not recognizing pictures of Brigham Young might happen at BYU, sure, but not knowing the name of the prophet? Even I'm not that bad.)

I guess none of this beats backflips in church, or even the sternum story, but hey, I understood them! (That's always a noteworthy vistory, in my mind.)

The Honeymoon Phase

(For all those who don't care what's going on in my life, and only want clever little quips and stories, please skip this entry. I'm about to do an information overload, and, what's worse, it will be information unbound by a formal narrative. I can't promise I'll be clever; all I can guarantee is that it will be verbose.)

I arrived in Semarang from Jakarta two days ago on a tiny little Garuda Indonesia flight. The weight limit, according to my ticket, was 30 kilos for everything, meaning both of my suitcases and my carry-on. My suitcases were roughly 28 k each, and my carry-on was easily another 10. When I checked everything in, the guy at the desk said something about paying an overweight fee, at which point I smiled sweetly, crossed my fingers, and pulled out a letter from the government that the office gave me. Our program director told us to try using it to avoid the fees; she said it may or may not work, but would be worth a shot. I gave the man a slightly nervous spiel (in Indonesian) about how I'm in the country at the special request of the office of the president, and how therefore I'm exempt from such pedestrian requirements as overweight baggage fees. To my great surprise and pleasure, it worked. You'd better believe I'm holding on to that letter, and maybe even making some extra photocopies.

After being picked up at the airport by some of my school's incredibly nice teachers, we went out to eat, where I had my first experience trying to eat rice with my hands. It was messy but strangely satisfying; I worried mostly about an open sore on my thumb, which stung like nobody's business as I ate spicy dishes.

(When it comes to hygeine around here, it's often best to just close your eyes and think of the empire. Rest assured that I did wash my hands.)

Speaking of food, that's an issue here. If I come back next summer weighing twice as much, don't be surprised: everybody wants to feed me, and it's hard to constantly resist. I haven't paid for a single piece of food since I arrived, and at every turn I've been offered sweet syrupy drinks, strangely textured desserts, spring rolls, cap cay, spicy vegetables, sweet vegetables, cantaloupe drinks, fried noodles, fried chicken, spicy fish, sweet fish, salted fish, otak-otak, oranges, apples, mangoes, papaya, snake fruit, jackfruit, keropok, bread with chocolate, pastries, various other unidentified dishes, and, of course, white rice, brown rice, yellow rice, fried rice, and coconut rice. It's all--with the possible exception of cassava--completely and utterly delicious, so how can I refuse?

I'm less likely to even think about refusing other aspects of my school's hospitality. They were supposed to arrange housing for me--housing which I don't even have to pay for--and, I must say, they did a smashing job. They found a teacher at the school who had a spare room and, let me tell you, this woman is loaded. I'm living in a bedroom larger than most of my Provo living rooms, and it comes complete with a king bed and a twin spare, marble floors, an air-conditioning unit, a Western toilet and shower, and a giant wardrobe for storing many more possessions than I actually own. The rest of the house is equally stunning: it's spacious and light, with a charming little porch in front, and another in back which looks into a tropical garden. I intend to eat breakfast there in the morning, listening to the bird calls.

As for breakfast, I don't even have to prepare it myself. All my meals are prepared by one of this household's seven servants. (They may have others that I haven't seen; to be honest, I'm not quite sure.) There are at least three maids, constantly hanging around to do my laundry, tidy my books and papers, make my bed, and urge more meals on me. There are two drivers, one for each car, and finally there are at least two extra people, who perform basic services such as opening the gate.

(I'm sure after at least a week all these extraneous presences in the house will grate on me, in particular the fact that I can't come and go on my own without asking someone else to open the door for me, but for now it's still a thrill. Hence, the honeymoon phase.)

Plus, and this is where I really feel blessed, the house is quite near the center of town, which means I can walk to an internet cafe which provides broadband internet for 30 cents an hour, or, if my cravings for Western comforts overcome my reluctance to spend money, to a Dunkin' Donuts or McDonald's. What's more, I'm within walking distance of the Mormon church, so I don't have to worry about transportation on Sundays, even if I do feel a bit like an Orthodox Jew, eschewing all forms of work.

Being near the center of town is also an advantage on Sunday mornings, such as today, because Sunday morning is prime recreation time for this town. When this morning I arrived at church at 8 AM only to find that it actually began at 9, I wandered through the market, and stumbled upon such interesting gems as a street performance of traditional Javanese dance, a man selling fat crickets to be fried and eaten, horse-drawn carriages taking people around the traffic circle, and a pirated DVD stand selling, of all things, a copy of "The Legend of Johnny Lingo."

Semarang, or what I've seen of it so far, is a beautiful town. (I suspect that's probably not true, and instead I'm just wearing "Jakarta goggles," through which nearly every other city looks peaceful, quiet, and clean.) Everyone's dire warnings of the heat here were, as it turns out, perfectly true, and so I'm being careful to keep a water bottle with me at all times. (The maids think it's strange that all I want to drink is water. Mostly I'm trying to avoid being offered more strawberry syrup.) Semarang was a major capital in the Dutch era, and many old Dutch buildings, including a fabulous old church, are still standing. It's also a heavily Chinese city, and its Chinatown is, in addition to being full of good food, thriving. It also features a section of town up on a hill, which offers great views of the city stretching out over its bay. The school where I'll be teaching is a five minute walk from the sea, which sounds a lot more interesting than it actually is. There's no beach to speak of, and the water so close to the city looks, well, less than appealing. On the plus side, it's the Java Sea, which hasn't had any drastic tsunamis so far and, as far as I know, isn't likely to get them. Knock on wood.

(As my dad pointed out, though, the fact that the U.S. Government is worried enough about my security to buy me my own cell phone is not exactly heartening. It's not just tsunamis, of course, but also bird flu, earthquakes, and terrorism. Semarang is, according to a nice FBI agent I talked to a few weeks ago, a "real hotbed of terrorist activity nowadays." At his urging, I'll be keeping a low profile, as far as that's possible for a blond-haired, blue-eyed, 5 foot 9 inch American female in Southeast Asia.)

Let's not end it on that note: Semarang is great so far, and I feel ridiculously lucky to have ended up in my situation. Starting bright and early tomorrow--I have to leave the house by 6.30 at the latest every day--I'll be at my school, first observing and getting fitted for a uniform, and later teaching myself. I can sense a variety of emotions stewing below the surface--anxiety about standing up in front of 15 year olds all day, frustration with not speaking the language and constantly feeling like a retarded child, homesickness for my family and friends and even, occasionally, the mountains--but for the most part all I feel is excited. Wish me luck.

Groundbreaking New Research from the Field

The Top 5 Worst Places to Have a Mosquito Bite

5. The middle of the back. (Itchy and impossible to scratch.)
4. The groin. (Itchy and socially unacceptable to scratch.)
3. The face. (Itchy and disfiguring.)
2. The soles of the foot. (Itchy, with that itch constantly renewed through any contact with shoes or the ground.)
1. Any place where the mosquito can give you Japanese encephalitis, malaria, dengue fever, or yellow fever. (Any place such as, say, Indonesia.)

(You can trust me on this, people: since I currently have a bite in each of these places, I've spent some quality time thinking about the issue. A few more weeks, and I'll start considering myself a real expert in this matter. I wonder if there's any way to go pro with my newfound knowledge.)