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.

Who's on Romney's Side, Who?

Now that Mitt has won a few states, I feel slightly less guilty about doing a little bit of gentle (I hope) teasing, in the form of a parody I wrote back in September. (Caution: some references may be so four months ago.)

(To the tune of "Who's on the Lord's Side, Who")

1. The Christian Right declares,
"Mormons are not like us,
With special underwear
And their strange married Jesus.

They believe they will be gods;
they have an extra book
They're all a bunch of frauds
Not worth a second look."

Who'll vote for Romney, who?
Iowa's the place to show,
From the primaries we'll know:
Who'll vote for Romney, who?

2. The godless Dems eschew
Those who put trust in Him
Especially if their views
Change on a weekly whim.

They say he flops and flips
On abortion and the gays.
His centrist mindset slips;
He takes up right-wing ways.


The liberal media laughs
(NYT's loud and shrill)
At his embarrassing gaffes:
"Small varmints, if you will."

From his favorite sci-fi read,
To his tasteless Mormon jokes
And Castro's lines gloried,
Sometimes the guv just chokes.


4. In college he sold stock
And spent two years in France
Then entered--it's no shock--
the world of high finance.

The average Joe cannot
connect with our dear Mitt
From a squash court to a yacht,
He's got a rich man's kit.


5. The Lord's own people choose
The Lord's own candidate.
We love his Mo values
There's no need for debate.

With cash and checks and coin,
With one heart and one mind,
We're girding up our loins
5 million strong combined.

Final Chorus:
We'll vote for Romney, we.
Utah to Mitt will go
From Primary we've known:
We'll vote for Romney, that's who!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Listening to "Listening to Otis Redding At Home During Christmas" At Home During Christmas

Because my aunt Marie misses my blog, and because, well, I miss my blog, I bring you, in the triumphal return of Purple Petra to blogging action, the highlights of my last month.

(Yes, I'm too lazy to do anything but make a list. So sue me: it's winter break, and therefore I don't have to use paragraphs.)
  • I've been on a baking/cooking spree lately, which is strange for me, the girl who's content to eat saltines for dinner every day for the rest of her life, but, for all its strangeness, not entirely unwelcome. I made cinnamon rolls during finals week, a form of procrastination that impressed and delighted all my classmates at our end-of-semester party; for my mom's primary party I made sugar cookies; and I tried square bishops--the term is my own, derived from a long, silly, and suggestive free-association game with Klement and The Duke--for Christmas Eve dessert, when we then all joked that the preponderance of butter in Mormon cooking--seriously, folks, a cup and a half?--comes from the fact that we don't believe that resurrected bodies have blood, and so we therefore don't have to take care of our arteries. More recently, after returning to Berkeley, I've tried out a recipe for koshari, an Egyptian favorite, and didn't utterly fail, unlike the last time, baked chocolate chip cookies, made naan from scratch, and Googled recipes for old Indonesian favorites like rujak and rendang. I know this may not sound like much, but, seriously, seeing as how I cooked something more than pasta maybe five times throughout my four years as an undergrad, I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself, even if I do spend the whole time humming, "I'm making a lasagna...for one!"
  • I didn't do much Boston-related; in fact, I only left my dull suburban town once, for a trip into Cambridge to see Eraserhead with one of my best friends from high school and her sister's boyfriend. Now, ordinarily I wouldn't mention this, fun as it was, it's just that her sister's boyfriend is famous. Well, to me. I felt incredibly hip, watching a cult film and hanging out with one of these guys. [Claps] Yeah!
  • My family's only Christmas tradition is that we have no Christmas traditions: last year we were in Austria and so bought no presents, the year before Klement was in the hospital and I was in charge of being Santa, which means that everyone got books and only books, and the year before that we were in India, where my mom hired a guy with a camel to bring our presents to the door.
In any case, this year's Christmas variation was that we would each buy presents for ourselves, wrap them, and label them as if they had come from someone else. That way, there would still be surprises on Christmas morning, only the surprise would be what you had given, not what you had gotten. It was a plan brilliantly conceived but poorly executed; Mom and Dad followed through but the kids did not, meaning that on Christmas morning my mom had a huge stack of presents while Klement, the youngest of the family and still only 15, had--guess--one. Oops. On the plus side, we were all utterly surprised and delighted at the presents that "we" had gotten Mom.
  • Klement's present, however, was a good one--a Wii, which then provided endless amounts of entertainment for the rest of us over the break, both in actually playing the games and in making suggestive jokes about the name. Wii. Tee-hee. I quickly fell in love with the boxing game, and spent several evenings utterly embarrassing The Duke with the girly flailing that passed, for me, as boxing, and, of course, with the exultant victory rapping I insisted on doing every time I won, charming little spontaneous ditties like Eins zwei drei fier/Everybody start the cheer/This little German dude/had best admit that he is screwed. That's right: I can video game box and rhyme. Just call me Mohammed Awii.
  • After Christmas, we spent a week skiing and seeing family in Utah. I love skiing, don't get me wrong, but the overall suffering:pleasure ratio was a bit too high on many of our days. It's hard to enjoy the thrill of speeding down the mountain, frankly, when it's 5 degrees out. I did, however, learn that swearing, somehow, takes the edge off the cold, particularly when on the ski lift, meaning that anybody who happened to be passing below my mom and I on the ski lift would have heard us practicing all the swear words we knew, which, since we are Mormon, isn't many.
  • Having finished up seeing family and friends in Utah, I flew down to southern California to see yet more family. I didn't do much of note there, just ate at their favorite restaurants, played several of my uncle's four hundred or so board games, listened to music, read the LA times, enjoying the full-page movie ads, attended one of my uncle's philosophy graduate seminars, watched reality TV with my aunt, and, oh, went down to Tijuana for a day, where my cousin and I walked around in the rain, studiously avoiding eye contact with the men standing outside strip joints, ate enchiladas and hot cakes and churros and cactus, laughed at the sign which directed the way towards the border crossing from the U.S. side, which said, in huge letters, WEST PARKING LOTS, accompanied by an arrow, and then, in smaller letters below that, And Mexico, and generally alternated between enjoying and pitying Tijuana's seedy border-town feel. It was, suffice to say, an awesome trip.
So, with a few exceptions and/or lapses of memory, that's basically the last month. And I've still got a week before classes start, which is kind of unbelievable but not unappreciated, since I do so enjoy a lull before a storm. Though, hopefully, even with the start of classes, I'll still find time to blog, if not for my own sake, for Aunt Marie's.