I almost ate bat (paniki) . . . ada

20140330-221438.jpgThis is my final Slice of Life Story Challenge for March 2014, sponsored by Two Writing Teachers! Yesterday, I almost ate bat, but I did taste bat gravy. To be polite. Yes, paniki, bat in curry sauce.

Some of the best travel in Indonesia (and possibly anywhere) is with Indonesian friends. The warmth of their hospitality and their ability to bargain with drivers, airline personnel and hotel staff is priceless. Also, the total immersion experience of hearing Indonesian spoken with a few kindly breaks for translation, takes me out of my dominantly English speaking environment of an international school. I know basically “taxi Indonesian” or the words for turn right, left and u-turn. But one of my favorite words is when you ask someone if they can do something for you and they can, they say thoughtfully or sometimes generously, “Bisa bisa bisa (Yes, I can).” One of my least favorite words is a slippery one, “Ada.” Sometimes people say it dismissively when you ask if something can be done, as if to say, “Cannot!” But it doesn’t really mean that. Perplexing.

When traveling, of course, there’s the food. I flew to North Sulawesi with some friends. This area is known for a few reasons: being predominantly Christian, its spectacular diving and its spicy spicy food–even by Indonesian standards. On a side note, according to the driver, the reason Christianity took a foothold in this part of Indonesia was a result of the fact that the Christian missionaries were the only Western people who dared to settle with the tribes, reputed to be cannibalistic. Returning to the cuisine, our driver also let us know as we were driving in near pitch darkness around hairpin turns through the jungle that the reason we had no need to worry about hitting an animal in the dark was that the animals are all hunted and eaten for dinner before they are ever in “danger” of becoming roadkill.

We politely declined and then insistently repeated our decision in response to several offers to take us to visit the local market where there would be bat, snake, dogs and other meat on display for sale. However, for a “special” roadside lunch, we were taken to a quaint restaurant and served several dishes which kept coming out of the kitchen. We were told we would only have to pay for what we wanted to eat.


rice, veggies and skewered meat

Among the items brought to our table were rice wrapped in a giant leaf, pickled julienned vegetables, reduced spinach-like leaves that would contain hashish in some recipes (not ours, apparently), skewered meats, ayam goreng (fried chicken), bean soup (a remnant of the Dutch influence, according–once again–to our driver) and greenish bat curry. I stuck mainly to the veggies and rice, but had some bat curry spooned on my plate. Since this meal was offered to me as a gift, I had a difficult time not attempting to make a polite gesture. The gravy tasted a bit game-y. Someone else described the meat as tasting like, “quail.” The Indonesian name for bat served this way is “paniki” which is an accurate description of how I felt when confronted with Stellaluna in a dish.

Break one of these purple globes open and enjoy a sweet bulb of white garlic looking pieces that are just ... mmm

Break one of these purple globes open and enjoy a sweet bulb of white garlic looking pieces that are just … mmm

The food did not categorically instill panic. Later, we stopped for mangosteens at the height of their ripeness and big bunches of small bananas. Fabulous! For dinner, we visited the second largest fresh water lake in Indonesia–Lake Tondono (The largest lake is in Sumatra, Lake Toba)–where we were treated to some fresh fish, which I also tasted, but passed the remainder of the tail fin and most of the flesh of the lower body to another hungry traveler. This later proved to be a wise decision, as another traveler got part of the fin stuck in the back of her mouth, causing a bit of pain until it was dislodged.

As I bid farewell to the SOLSC 20014 challenge and to my credibility as a part time vegan / vegetarian example to children, I want to thank Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres, the original founders of Two Writing Teachers, as well as all the other writers I have met through this experience. And of course, to the indomitable, Jee Young, my unwitting host through the International Teaching Experience as well as an inspiration to join the writing challenge again this year.

Vegan apologies: fresh crunchy fried fish served with soy sauce and sambal (chili sauce)

Vegan apologies: fresh crunchy fried fish served with soy sauce and sambal (chili sauce)

Posted in culture shock, international teaching, travel | Tagged | 4 Comments

Floating in a real life aquarium


Although Michigan is surrounded by water, our water sports are mostly surface: sea doo, water skiing, kayaking, etc. Here in Indonesia the water sport is under the sea. The clown fish, blue starfish, iridescent schools of triangular and striped fish and many more are some of the reasons it’s better down where it’s wetter.

I took my third snorkel today while visiting the island of Sulawesi. Updating from an iPhone again, I’m challenged to keep things poetically brief.

Covered from ankle to wrist in a wet suit, mouth breathing through a snorkel and high stepping on land in flippers, I gingerly backed downward on a simultaneously rusty and slippery metal ladder attached to a jetty, or pier (as people in the US call them). Once in the clear, but by Indonesian standards slightly murky water due to rain, I waited for my friend and then bit down on the rubbery mouthpiece. Breathing in, you taste salty humidity on the roof of your mouth.

Then you float. Your face suspended above coral that looks like brain and patches of sagebrush. You see tiny Nemos going in and out of gelatinous anemones like bees in a fluffy flower. There are blue starfish lazily lounging across rocks. Flashes of yellow and black or blue and black pass you by–animals you can’t imagine seeing out of an aquarium.

Without an underwater camera, you’ll have to take me at my word. Or come to Indonesia. I know a great place.


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my last trip in Indonesia–really

20140327-151950.jpgSince December, I have been saying that I would be taking no more trips in Indonesia whilst (shout-out to the Brits and Aussies) I prepare to return to the USA, saving up for pergo floors and a used car.

Then, my aunt and uncle came to visit and we headed to Bali and Garut. Lovely! And about 2 weeks ago a friend asked if I would like to tag along on a diving trip to Manado on the island of Sulawesi with some friends where she and I would not dive but hang out instead.

At the beginning of this school year, I told myself to avoid the “When will I have the opportunity again?!” justification for over-spending and traveling as the date on my ticket home sped closer. However, when someone offers to plan a trip for you to an island that you haven’t yet visited in the 3 days after your family leaves and before school starts again . . . hmmm, yes.

So, I’ve been considering how to post a slice of life about airplane travel preparation. Then along comes Packing for Kathmandu, and I’m blown away by Jennifer’s almost Etsy level travel adorable-ness. My aunt and uncle are also packing superstars with 6 weeks of essentials in a carry on!! Incredible!! You’re my heroes!!

My blase attitude about airplane travel is a result of the fact that I have been harboring a secret that reveals how spoiled I’ve become: I find airline travel a tad bit annoying. Consequently, here are my nerdy tips for avoiding travel fatigue:

  • Yoga pants or leggings (a possible sign that you’ve given up, but also they keep you from setting off airport security because there is no need for a belt)
  • A Scottevest: I’ve posted about these before to the point that I sound like a spokesperson, but it’s your 3rd carryon, there are specialty pockets for everything from your passport to your glasses to your house key to possibly a couple of prescription pills to your smartphone, plus you have all the toiletries you need when you go to an airplane bathroom, and it truly looks stylish–no really–trust me or you be the judge. Up to you. Only downside: kind of pricey so it’s for the hard core fussy, lazy traveler.
  • Wear sneakers or trainers (another Aussie reference) on the plane for better luggage handling and warmth–this applies even when the temperatures are in the 90s or 100s at your destination. Shoes are your biggest space hog, so wear the bulkiest ones on the plane.
  • Bring a sweater even in equatorial heat for robust AC situations.
  • Toiletry bag packed at all times. I restock my toiletry bag after I return from a trip so it’s ready for the next trip. No mad dashes hours before the trip. I could avoid all of this by doing what my parents do, which is print out a list of items and check them off as they pack, but I have no printer at home.
  • charger

    versatile US, Indonesian / Korean and Chinese electronics charger

    Universal adaptor strip: I bring a charger strip that accommodates US, Indonesian / Korean and Chinese electronics for keeping my devices at 100%. It takes up a lot of space, but totally worth it. Oh, I also keep it in a waterproof canoe bag.

  • If at all possible, take a jog before getting on a long flight. For several reasons, but mostly to ward off any unpleasant digestive effects of sitting for hours coupled with limited liquid intake and packaged airplane food. I may have said too much already.
  • Download as many of the most recent episodes of your favorite podcasts for no wifi time and space.
  • Call the taxi well in advance so that you are not panicking if there’s a mix-up at dispatch about the exact time in either am/pm or military time.
  • If you forgot to print out your e-Ticket, take a screen capture of it on your device to show at the ticket counter.

Despite my spoiled ex-pat whining about the hassle of airplane travel, I am fully aware of the privilege it has been to travel internationally. Never before in history has it been so convenient, actually. I write this mostly to my future self, when I’m tucked back into my condo next year–waiting for spring at the end of March in North America.

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Bowing toward Mecca

20140325-174228.jpgBefore I moved to Indonesia, I really had very little knowledge of Islam or being Muslim. My only real stand on any topic related to Islam was to compare those who opposed a mosque construction near Ground Zero to anyone who would oppose American Airline personnel from going near the same site. Both of these institutions were used on that fateful day to carry out the plans of a small group of people unassociated with the core mission of either.

Some people balked at this analogy. My point being, although I knew (and continue to know) little about Islam, I carry a respect for this religion despite being a devout Christian.

Daily, my life is currently punctuated by the call to prayer. For those who have not heard this collection of almost forlorn notes that convey a sort of longing and urgency, here’s a clip of a colleague performing his version at our teacher initiation almost 2 years ago. Tragically, the sound quality is compromised, because his voice is amazing.

When my aunt and uncle were visiting, my aunt really wanted to see people praying. We come from a small town in Michigan where we don’t see many people on prayer mats. Holland, Michiganians may not know where Mecca is, but they definitely give directions using the points of the compass–so from the standpoint of a GPS preciseness of the location of Mecca, this may be the smallest possible sliver of overlap between these two cultures.

However, while at our small mountain village resort, at 4 a.m., 9 a.m., 12 p.m., 3 p.m., 6 p.m., etc. we’d hear the call to prayer across a loudspeaker we couldn’t quite pinpoint near our bungalow. At 3 p.m. and again at 6 p.m., my aunt jumped up and wondered if we could see people praying if we went out to the street or found a mosque to stroll past.

Sadly, few people were out and about. The guards could not understand our inquiry to point us in the direction of the nearest mosque. As a final effort, we asked our room service attendant if he would be praying shortly and he simply nodded eagerly and smiled, uncomprehending.

My aunt was visiting for too short a time to be a part of my daily routine. If she had been able to stay longer, she might have been able to observe someone kneeling to pray.

I live with a Muslim. Atik, my helper, prays daily. I appreciate the whispered prayers that come through the screen door from her section of the house.

She is faithful in her prayers. For my part, I may come bursting into the room, unaware of her prayer and then quieten down as soon as I realize my presence may be a disturbance.

I also have a quiet time in the morning with my prayer journal. At a small group gathering at our church, we studied The Cross and the Crescent. The two major religions started as a family feud. This fascinating, passionate story continues. In my case: Two faiths. One house.

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Surrounded by volcanoes


My friend, Sam, who has lived in Indonesia for over 15 years gave us the tip to visit a hotel in the mountains. Sam specified a certain room and helped me book it with a down payment in advance. Once, she and her husband were bumped from her favorite room when a visiting dignitary arrived at the hotel on the same day.

This is another advantage of ex-pat culture: the inside travel tips. In a cool mountain breeze, I have little to report but gratitude to Sam for bringing us to a place I would never have found on my own.



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Amazing Race Challenge: Locate a Silverbird

20140325-174228.jpgMy travels with my aunt and uncle continued onto Jakarta yesterday where we landed at Soekarno-Hatta Airport, Terminal 2. There are 3 terminals. We were pleasantly surprised to see we landed with enough time for a cream bath–head and neck massage with conditioner treatment–so we decided to pick up our bags and head out. Straight home and then on to the cream bath. A friend would be coming to dinner afterward.

Our plan was interrupted by a couple of factors. The first was our bags took awhile to be unloaded from the plane which set us back. But the second involved a mad dash through the parking lot with, although impressively compact, heavy heavy carry on bags pulled up over curbs and around cars. This had NOT been in my plans.

My plan was to head straight to the Silverbird stand–executive taxi stand–jumping the snaky switchback line at the economy Bluebird stand. What you receive by going Silver or Bluebird is the assurance that the company has trained and backed their drivers (Silverbird being the class of higher training, however), because each car has a code that you can use to report suspicious behavior to a central office. What you don’t get with the independent contractors, is this fallback.

With 3 terminals, I’m always trying to get my bearings at each to find the Silverbird stand. The main reason is that there are tons of independent taxi companies who would love to intercept unsuspecting tourists and whisk them away in their unmarked taxis, skimming business away from the tried and true monopoly (for a reason) Blue/Silverbird taxi company.

I have lived in Indonesia for almost 2 years! I knew how to avoid these guys. I thought . . .

After wading through a maze of very friendly and eager people asking, “Taxi?” with a smile almost literally putting a hand on my carry-on to kindly escort me to a waiting mini-van, I walked with a purpose in the direction of the Silverbird stand. In fact, I had to ward off one man who had already taken hold of my carry-on and started across the street. He finally let go of my luggage after I kept insisting I didn’t think this was the direction of the Silverbirds. What threw me, was that at Terminal 3, the Silverbird stand is across the street from the airport.

Anyhow, finally at the Silverbird stand, I approached a man and asked for the next Silverbird. Another customer was already being helped by a Silverbird rep. So this man offered to help. However, he took hold of my carry-on and started toward the parking lot, away from the line of Silverbirds parked in front of the airport! This was my first clue that something was sketchy.

This man walked briskly with my carry-on–the lightest of the 3 among mine, my aunt and uncle’s–and all the while responding to my insistent questions that he, in fact, worked for Silverbird. My aunt and uncle pulled their, once again, impressively compact for over 4 weeks of travel, but heavy heavy carry-ons across a crowded parking lot. We were in pursuit of a man who was taking us away from the Silverbirds, all the while letting us know that there were not enough Silverbirds right now so he was taking us to a car that was immediately available.

When we finally arrived at the unmarked silver mini-van, he and another man finally took notice of my aunt and uncle’s luggage and loaded it immediately in the back along with my carry-on of which our “guide” had already been in possession. Fuming, I asked for the taxi number. Of which, naturally, was one none.

I apologized to my aunt and uncle, feeling terrible that they had had to schlepp their luggage across such an unnecessary parking lot–and that my luggage always seemed to be the one that people were insisting on “helping” with. We removed our carry-ons from the back of the silver mini-van and sped bumpily back across the same obstacle course to the very same Silverbird stand from where we can come. The independent taxi man was disgusted as he watched us leave and his carefully executed plan fall apart.

This time, at the Silverbird stand, there was no one else being helped so we spoke to the legitimate Silverbird representative, who whisked us immediately into one of over 10 Silverbirds, at the ready.

Note: I’m sure the independent taxi driver would have been a safe option, but I didn’t appreciate being conned, and I didn’t like his attitude (Teacher voice)!

Content in the Silverbird, we rode home through Jakarta traffic that my aunt and uncle assured didn’t bother them because they were happy that they were being driven, rather than having to drive themselves.

Our plans of having a cream bath were gone, but we did enjoy a pleasant meal with the friend who had recommended the lovely hotel in Bali.


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Don’t worry! Be happy!


Our local Balinese guide, self described Bali Paul Newman — I think his name is actually Mr. Nyoman — but sounds like close enough, found out what the word “aphrodisiac” meant today.

Mr. Nyoman took us to many local attractions including a coffee / tea / cacao location where he encouraged my uncle to drink the ginseng coffee for “make stronger.” My uncle asked him if that meant it was an aphrodisiac. Mr. Newman didn’t know what that was, but within a half hour guessed its meaning without even googling (what google?) it. This launched him into song, singing loudly and winkingly, “Boom boom boom let’s go back to your room…”

He was disappointed to hear we weren’t interested in tasting the cat-poo-ccino or lowak coffee made from coffee beans digested by civets and pooped out to give the coffee an allegedly milder smoother taste.

Our day was peppered with reminders to “Don’t worry! Be happy!” because when my uncle asked if that was a local saying or way of life we discovered that no it’s just a “freakin’ good song. You know this song, yes?”

From temple a few days before the Hindu holiday of Nyepi celebrating the bad god with a day of silence to the spice jungle to rice terraces, a memorable day was had by all. (Not sure how to caption photos on this app, so feel free to provide your own.)


Posted in life and culture, travel, Uncategorized | Tagged | 4 Comments