Monday, January 21, 2008

The Year in Review: 2007

I don't and have never faithfully kept a journal, besides, I suppose, this blog, but I have always been a fairly regular correspondent, and so nowadays I regard my email archives as my closest approximation to record-keeping. Thus, along those lines, I present here excerpts from emails, along with pictures, that each, in some way, represent something significant about that month. Here we have 2007.


This morning, I taught my students to ask "what can I do you for?" And last week I taught them to start conversations with "What's cookin', good-lookin'?" I am a bad English teacher. And, this month, I am a bad friend, co-worker, and even random stranger on the street; my culture shock has manifested itself recently in irrational rage at everyone and everything. I got into a shouting match on the street the other day with a public van driver who was trying to overcharge a nickel. I should have just paid and gotten out of there, but I hate being taken advantage of all the time, and so I decided to go for the "terrible person" option of fighting about it. Luckily for me, Indonesia is, for the most part, a highly non-confrontational culture and, faced with a red-faced foreigner, competent in the language and actual prices, and willing to actually, gasp!, yell, the driver decided to just let it be. I gave the nickel to one of the many beggars who had gathered to watch the fight and walked home, still shaking with fury.

Public vans awaiting passengers


I'm wasted in the classroom here, and not even the fun drunk kind of wasted. One of the questions on our reading test today was, "How does Indonesia's population grow?" I first stifled a giggle at the dirty jokes I could make, and then invented some answers for them: a. rapidly, b. slowly, c. not at all, d. with silver bells and cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row. And then I turned around and had to face an entire classroom of wide, confused, eyes, all wondering what weird thing Miss Hannah was doing now. Apparently nursery rhymes were never in their curriculum.

Some of my students at their morning ceremony


I went out with a group of friends this morning--when Indonesians say "let's hang out on Saturday, they mean, "Saturday morning at 8 AM"--and actually had a great time. This is rare. Generally, I don't understand what's going on because people are mixing Javanese into their Indonesian, and then I'm frustrated and bored and just want to go home, or the people have to speak pure Indonesian for me, and then they're frustrated and bored and just want to go home. For some reason, though, this morning's trip worked. One of the girls speaks Indonesian very clearly--she is Javanese, but doesn't have a strong accent--and one of the boys is from Jakarta, so doesn't speak Javanese at all, and speaks a remarkably clear and lovely version of Indonesian. We explored the old 18th-century administration building, which was full of bats and smelled of urine, and then went to the restaurant one of the girls owns. (She's 19, a college student, and owns her own restaurant. And her name is--get this--Liquid! Apparently, her mother suffered from dehydration during her pregnancy. In any case, she's amazing!) Then the boy gave me a ride home on his motorcycle--note to self, riding with girls is far less scary than riding with boys--and told me about his job working for the counter-terrorism police unit in Semarang. And maybe I'm just shallow, but hey, that's a pretty kickass job. That, plus the motorcycle, plus the clear accent, means I love him. That's how low my standards are nowadays.

Lawang Sewu, the building we visited. Do not disturb the bats.


I finally, less than a month before I am due to leave, got the uniform I was promised in September and, frankly, I'm no longer upset that I wasn't given it before. When I first showed up at school wearing it, half the teachers politely told me I looked beautiful and the other half giggled behind their hands. It's strangely boxy and the skirt is far too tight, forcing me to take tiny ladylike steps all over the place and to struggle climbing up onto the school bus every morning without entirely exposing myself to the middle schoolers. I look like a stewardess, and, what's more, a stewardess with a really poor sense of color: I have two versions of the uniform, a yellow one which my twelfth graders told me makes me look like a banana, and a pinkish version which is almost exactly the same color as my skin, creating a rather eerie the-emperor-has-no-clothes-or-maybe-just-no-body effect. The school principal suggested that I could take the uniforms back to America as a souvenir. Thanks, but no thanks.

My male colleagues don't seem to mind that I look like a stewardess/banana


I'm leaving in a few days, and so I'm feeling that end-of-an-experience, all-bets-are-off urge to do something wild and crazy. Last time I felt this urge I got a bikini wax, hence I was hoping, this time, to do something less painful. So the SLO and I hit up the local mall, where we took crazy pictures in a photobooth, complete with Asian teenage girl poses and cutesy captions, and then caused a scene by asking a pirated DVD shop to test out the film "1 Night in Paris" on their big-screen TV. (We just didn't believe that could honestly be the content of the DVD. It was. Talk about awkward.) Then we wandered through the mall and ended up asking if we could sit on the giant animatronic rhino and elephant that little children ride around the mall. (It's as weird as it sounds. Trust me.) The guy running the ride looked at us like we were insane, but foreigners get away with everything around here, including acting like four year olds, because, hey, maybe that's just what they all do in America.

Not much to say, it's all here in the beauty of the flowers.


The Duke and I spent a good portion of our time in Vietnam talking about what it would be like when we got back to America: we would blend in! We would speak the language! There would be no cats! The streets would be made of cheese! And then we landed in San Francisco and hopped on public transportation over to Oakland, only to look around, while waiting for the train, and realize that we were the only white people on the platform. Furthermore, we were the only non-Asians on the platform. And that no one else was speaking English. Oh well. At least there are no cats!

The Duke celebrating catless America


In my self-appointed role as social coordinator, I'm emailing you to tell you the plans for the next little while:

Tomorrow I'm going to a barbecue in Provo, to which you're invited. Saturday we'll be hitting up the Payson Scottish festival, mostly for the caber toss. Saturday night is as yet unplanned, but maybe we could find you some rocky mountain oysters? Sunday I think I'll probably be going to church in SLC to see the definitely-not-a-farewell farewell of a boy from my old ward in Belmont. If you're coming to bad movie night that night, can I get a ride back down with you? Monday will be hiking in American Fork canyon, and I think there might also be a bad movie night on Monday night too--I know, two in a row! Then next Saturday is Llama Fest, ca. 4 pm, and Melyngoch's farewell and post-party are Sunday at 11 am and 3pm, and then I think we might go to Annie's later that night for games. Oh, and a trip to a dinosaur museum will definitely also happen sometime. Please come.

I look strangely excited, for someone about to taste bull balls.


I went to dinner with my dad at the Indonesian restaurant around the corner, where I spoke Indonesian to the server and was told that there was a "smell of Java" about me. So apparently my Javanese accent is strong, strong enough to be obvious in a short conversation where I ask for the check and then apologize for not speaking Indonesian earlier. (Well, either that or I haven't showered since May. But I'm pretty sure the server meant it metaphorically.) In any case, I'm sure the server got a kick out of it: imagine a Chinese exchange student with a Brooklyn accent. I'd guess it's kind of like that.

San Francisco in August


And then, just when I was thinking, could this event be any more Berkeley, I overheard a nine year old say to her mother, "Is that goat cheese? I love goat cheese!" I'm sure that's a sign of apocalypse somewhere, tucked away in one of the more unreadable sections of Revelation or Isaiah: "And lo, when a babe, yea, even a suckling child, doth lust after the milk of a kid, then shall ye know that ye live in a foodie culture. Oh, and that the Second Coming is soon, the earth will be utterly wasted, etc, etc, I think you guys know the drill by now." Of course, one can hardly blame her: goat cheese is delicious.

A September parade: how Berkeley can you be?


I was sitting in my department lounge yesterday doing some reading, and two undergraduates were sitting near me talking. One of them said something about Cal's starting quarterback, and the other replied with, "he's Mormon, you know." There's this long pause following that, where they're both clearly thinking what to say next, and it's clearly going to be about Mormons, so I'm waiting, with interest, to hear what it will be. Having overheard several conversations recently about "there's no way I'm voting for that Mormon dude, because polygamy is just sick and wrong," I'm slightly nervous as to what kind of ignorance or soft bigotry I might encounter. Finally, the guy break the silence and says, "Mormons are really nice." The girl jumps in enthusiastically: "I know! I was just about to say that!" And then they have a long conversation about how all the Mormons they've known are so super nice and friendly and blah blah blah. It wasn't what I was expecting, but I'm not complaining: after all the Mormons-are-a-crazy-creepy-cult perspectives in the media lately, it's nice to hear some good press.

Two fun October activities: dressing up for the opera and learning to use the color effects in iPhoto. Purple, appropriately enough.


Someone left a bunch of fliers in one of my classes advertising jobs as a student lab assistant for, and this is the good part, the Pavement Research Center. With huge exclamation marks, the flier declared that assistants would learn to take asphalt samples and, best of all, learn to drive a forklift!!!! Great resume builder!!!!! So then of course we all had a good laugh at the idea of having forklift driving on your resume--just imagine the "skills" line: "proficient at Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, and driving a forklift." And then, abruptly, we fell silent, as we realized that someone with who can drive a forklift is probably more employable than someone with a higher degree in linguistics. Remind me again why I'm doing this?

Nice to know my degree is equivalent in uselessness to an MFA from Bennington


I spent the night at the church building the other night, totally by accident. I was just there doing homework, and chatting with people, and then all of a sudden (I swear time just flies when you're cramming for finals) it was 10 PM and dark out and pouring rain and I had to walk home alone. So I figured, hey, there's some blankets and couches here, I'll just stay. And the kitchen is fully stocked with food around finals time so I ate breakfast there and all. And I let myself get distracted from homework to play the piano and sit by the fire practicing my Braille on the books from the library downstairs. It was like a sleepover, minus the pajamas and giggling and talking about boys, and, well, other people, and it was AWESOME.

How I spent much of December: studying phonetics.


Ibu said...

It hardly seems possible that it was a year ago you were in Semarang wondering what to do with all your free time? Doesn't it seem like a strange dream now? Thanks for the year's summary. It was just as fun to go through it as a memory as it was to watch you go through it the first time. Your life is good.

eleka nahmen said...

I really like that picture of you getting worshipped by your male coworkers. It's so appropriate.

Dragon Lady said...

Can I just say that you are officially the coolest person ever? You read BRAILLE? Who does that? Y'know, besides blind people. How do you LEARN to do that? Yup, I'm glad I decided to read your blog. :)

ambrosia ananas said...

I think you have more adventures in one year than I'll have in my whole life. I'm glad you post them so I can adventure vicariously. : )

Also, I *love* the purple picture.

Th. said...


My word! You are a banana!

Expavesco said...

I have to agree with dragon lady. Very cool indeed.

Petra said...

Dragon Lady,

Nice of you to stop by. And yes, I can read Braille, though I'm a little rusty nowadays, hence the practicing at my institute building. I learned in high school, when I somehow persuaded by guidance counselor that an independent study program of Hindi and then Braille would be an appropriate replacement for a math class my senior. (I think it was persuasion by irritation, frankly: I showed up in her office enough that she conceded just to get rid of me.) I just found a tutor, a blind friend of my mom's, and studied with her. I never got amazing at it--Braille has three grades, and I'm competent at grades one and two and very out of practice at grade three. It sure is fun, though, and the random skill freaks people out, as I'm sure you know:)

Lizzie said...

Since i read this a few days ago, i've been wondering whether some people just have adventure skills (you, for example) and where i could get some. Because i just don't run into adventures on a monthly basis. Or yearly, for that matter. Anyway, i theorize that it's because you grew up with adventure-literate parents who not only taught you how to field the irregularities that come with life on the edge(!), but made it all seem (somewhat) normal. I have to confess that there were times when we were in VA that i wanted terribly to borrow your parents for just a month or two. (Not that my parents aren't great, mind, but can you see my mom traipsing round New Delhi?)

And amen to the braille wonderment! Seriously, what *don't* you do??

Lizzie said...

And AMEN, AMEN, AMEN to your comment! (And thank you. :))

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