Sunday, December 12, 2010

Looking for a soulman

Since Amy Winehouse disappeared into a world of drugs and rehab clinics, I've been searching for a soulman or woman to fill the gap. Some great artists came along, old and new. I still love Mary J. Blige, have recently discovered Janelle Monae and really like soulwoman Sharon Jones. When it comes to male singers, I really like Daniel Merriweather and the French Ben L'Oncle.

But when I first heard Liam Bailey, I knew this is the guy I'd been waiting for! His voice - frail and worn yet strong - goes straight to the heart. His single 'Breaking out' has been lingering in my head for several days now. Liam released his first singles on Amy Winehouse's lioness label and will release his debut album in January 2011.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The flexibility of flip-flops

There's something about flip-flops in Indonesia. They don't seem to belong to anyone in particular. If you don't guard yours with care, they may disappear. You enter a house, leave your sandals at the door and may find them gone. This doesn't happen out of evil intentions, your sandals are just public property.

It has surprised me several times to see a male colleague wearing the pink fake diamond embroidered flip-flops he came across. When it's warm, you want to take off your sneakers and slip into a sandal. That makes sense. But to wear someone else's? Yes, you can! Apparently, sandals also have a tendency to disappear at mosques, someone quickly slips into them for doing wudhu (ritual washing) and misplace them.

I've learned a few things this past year: 1) expect a 2 euro flip-flop from the supermarket to disappear if you place them anywhere but under you desk, 2) when you leave your sandals at someone's doorstep, place them strategically on the side. This way people will not step on them. 3) wear shoes that are too out of the ordinary to be worn by someone else.

For the past weeks, I've been taking pictures of the flip-flips lying around. Plenty of choice it seems.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Redefining the term 'Tourist trap'

A few months ago, I visited Luang Prabang, a Unesco World Heritage site. It's a small town with beautiful streets, houses and temples. Stuck in between the Mekong and the Nam Ou rivers with terraces by the water, it's a great place to spend a few days (we kept on extending our stay there). Besides strolling around visiting the temples, the main attraction is to get up at five and watch the monks make their alms round. It's truly impressive to see rows of orange robes passing by, bald monks carrying their silver boxes for the rice they are given.

Unfortunately however the many tourists are ruining this ritual. Some of them (probably not Buddhists) also sat on a mat to hand out sticky rice to the monks (being unexperienced they were slower than the locals, which led to queues of monks behind them). This tourist participation has led to a rather fierce sticky rice sale in front of the guesthouses. But worse are the tourists that 'forget' to pay respect to the monks. They stand tall in front of the monks (while you're supposed not stick out taller than them) and aggressively close in on the monks flashing their cameras in their faces. This was one of things signs all over town asked us not to do... It seemed the poor monks had walked into a tourist trap.

What should have looked like this
actually looked like this

A quiet backstreet was better, until one tourist decided to flash tens of monks in the face.

Lao women waiting for the monks

Monks in both streets

Monks passing by

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Ramadhan and the power of food

This year was my first ramadhan. Well, I did not actually join the fasting, but enjoyed seeing a completely different Jakarta. One thing all expats and Indonesians alike agree about is that Indonesian like to eat. They don't just like it, they love it. They LIVE it! Usually the first question when meeting a friend or family member is "did you eat yet?"If not, we have a good excuse to go and find some good food somewhere. Some of my Indonesian friends have really turned talking about food into an art. They can (seriously) talk for hours about great flavors, combinations and places where to find all these. No matter what they do for a living, after a while the conversation WILL turn to food.

And if you talk the talk, you must walk the walk,right? Well, that is no problem either. At work, for instance, there is basically always someone eating something at any random moment. Walk into someone's room unexpected and they're hanging above a noodlesoup, opening a bag of crackers or mixing the spices to go with rujak (young fruit). Go to the warung (foodstall) in front and someone chews away some krupuk or nuts. Any meeting longer than two hours is a reason to order snacks; fruit, filled tofu, pastei, pisang goreng, sweet coconut jelly cakes and more.

Curtain behind which people are eating

So, how does this go together with a month of fasting? Well, the days have been somewhat long. Lunch was sometimes hard to find, since many of the food stalls were closed. In respect for those fasting the warungs were covered and closed by cloths, so it felt a bit as if we were secretively steeling cookies from the jar (my mom used to hide the jar in some high up cupboard, but I always found it). However, when dawn came nearer. things quickly became fun again. Almost every day there was an invitation for 'Bukber', opening the fast together. We've had several at the office. About an hour before people could start eating they would already prepare all the food and gather around it. Plastic cups of Kolak (coconut soup often with banana, sweet potato or cassava) and es buah (fruit punch) were handed out about half an hour in advance. And then, you wait.

Bukber with my colleagues (Photo copyright I. Fernida)

The atmosphere was truly amazing. Everyone made sure no one stood there empty handed. Sometimes someone said a prayer and then, food! After people ate. they starting talking about food again. What to eat later on? And what to eat for saur (the last meal before the sun comes up)? Of course plans needed to be made for tomorrow's meal. I'm not sure if it was necessary, but fasting made us all appreciate food even more.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Remembering Munir

Last week Tuesday, it was six years since Munir was murdered. Munir was an Indonesian human rights activist who was a strong advocate for victims of grave human rights violations in Indonesia. He set up several human rights organisations, one of which is KontraS.

On 7 September 2004, he went on his way to study in the Netherlands, but on his trip he was poisoned with arsenic. When his plane landed in Amsterdam, Munir already passed away. For six years now his wife, former colleagues and friends have been pushing for justice. Even though the Garuda pilot who gave Munir the poisonous drink, Pollycarpus, is behind bars, the people who planned the murder still walk freely. After the case against the suspected mastermind Muchdi was acquitted due to lack of evidence in december 2008, not much has happened. Last week some 500 people demonstrated in front of the presidential palace to demand justice. Munir, you will not be forgotten!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Five (of all the) things I like about Indonesia

Sometimes I complain about Indonesia. Because things are different here. Because I'm having an off day. Because sometimes I just don't understand why things go the way they go here.

But today I want to stress the things I like. Because I do like a lot here. So here's a list of five of the things I like about Indonesia:

1. The way people laugh. Sometimes a group can just explode with laughter, in a way that we in the Netherlands have outlearned. One colleague of mine, who will leave the office and whom I will miss dearly, has a laugh like that - it's convincing and contagious. She can just let herself go and through out a loud: "Whaaahaaa!" and without knowing what the joke's about, I will laugh along with her.

2. It's only the way people laugh, but also the way they find a reason to laugh. It can happen during a rather dull meeting. Someone makes a joke and everyone will just burst into cries of laughter. When someone was happy with the joke they made, the joke will later be repeated to those absent and the same reaction can be expected.

3. Everyone's love for food. Every conversation will eventually lead to food. Even amongst human rights activists, it won't last long until the are debating where to eat or sharing stories of a great dish they tried somewhere. Foreigners will always be asked about the food in their home countries or their favorite Indonesian food somewhere.

4. How fast things can get done, if they have to. When I was writing an email inside the office, the yard in front has been rearranged from a cafe-like area to a stage where a full band is trying out or where five well-known Indonesians suddenly have a forum about the state of human rights in Indonesia.

5. The way the rain comes crushing out of the sky. Within just a few minutes the view from my balcony has dissolved into white mist which seems to hang over the ridge of my balcony. And then the rain starts. The kids start splashing around in the water, which flows as if someone opened the tap in the kitchen sink.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Indonesia, Indonesia - "But you're so bule!"

Every day in Jakarta, I have the same conversation. With taxi drivers, waiters, cashregister personnel, NGO colleagues, they all use the same format. After the standard questions (which in the West would seem very nosy) about where I'm from, my purpose for being in Indonesia and my marital status (including "Why don't you have children yet?"), the rest of the conversation goes something like:

"For how long have you been here?"
"Six months now', I say.
"What? But your Indonesian is already fluent!" they exclaim in happy surprise.
I say:"Yeah, well, my mom is Sundanese".
"But, your so bule!"

That sentence always leaves me silent. What can I say to that? "Yes, I know"? Because I really do know.

So, I tried the strategy to just NOT mention my Indonesian roots and say I have studied Indonesia for a long time. Sometimes I even pretend I'm such a genius that I mastered the Indonesian language in a mere six months. That one isn't very nice, especially not when meeting very friendly people. My latest is to tell people I am from Cimahi, Bandung. That one works amazingly well. People laugh and think I'm just a bit crazy. Sometimes I'm really fed up by re-telling this story day in day out. On the other hand, it's great to be here, because I keep on reinventing myself!

*bule refers to white people

With my mom and sister in the centre of the Old Jakarta

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Weekday veg

This week was my third week as a weekday vegetarian. A what? Yes, that's the kind of vegetarian that thinks there's something seriously wrong with the way we have industrialized meat, but loves meat too much to stop eating it all together. I know, it's kind of hypocritical solution to the problems in the world, but well with practical idealism we may still contribute.

So far, it's been very good, even though in Indonesia it's not always easy to find vegetarian dishes. Watch the video above and also give it a try as well!

Vegetarian food with on the lower shelf chicken feet, a delicatesse here

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Leaving Microsoft to change the world - Book review

In this book, John Wood describes how he went from being a manager at Microsoft to the founder and director of Room to Read, a charity that builds libraries and schools in developing countries. It's an easy and fun to read book about how he sets out to improve literacy for ten million children by 2015. He seems very successful in his endeavors and has achieved to set up 1128 schools and 10.000 libraries, benefiting 4.1 million children thusfar.

Being advisor on Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, I read this book with scepticism. Who was this businessman coming into the world of development aid, claiming that he was the first to do something substantial against illiteracy? Weren't there not tens if not hundreds organizations already working on this? Yes, there are. But honestly speaking, not many have achieved to work in nine countries, providing access to millions of children to books and doing all of that with private funding.

So how about the results he mentions? For organizations that receive government funding or funding from international donors, it's usually not enough to merely state what the outputs or direct results of their activities are. So, they cannot just say that their 'impact' was 8944 scholarships for girls. The scholarships are just the outputs. They actually have to try to prove that the scholarships helped girls gain knowledge which they use when they grow up. Are these organizations going to far in trying to measure this impact? Should we just work it in a more businesslike way? Apparently, the information that Room to Read is providing is enough to generate more and more funding each year. That's the way the market works, right?

One thing that stood out for me was that he only sporadically mentioned a project that wasn't very successful. Does this mean there weren't many? Or does it just mean he doesn't want to (as we say in Dutch) hang out his dirty laundry? From what I can tell, many projects in development aid are not as successful as planned and hoped, because reality always seems to pose new problems. I would be interested to hear more about what happens in the kitchen of Room to Read. What's their secret recipe?

Despite my critical outlook (mostly about the idea that development aid is just a thing you do on your gut feeling), I feel that the development aid community can learn a lot from this businesslike way of doing things. One element is the personnel you hire: Yes, we all work towards a common goal, but that doesn't mean that anyone who just wants to do good can be on the team. In order for it to work, organizations need committed professional staff. Furthermore, ownership of the local communities needs to be ensured. So without a contribution from the schools, parents or village chief, there will be no Room to Read library or school.

To end off on a light note: There is a vacancy with Room to Read for which the requirements are listed below. First of all, I note that professional experience in development is required. This means that 'this businessman' does surround himself with knowledgeable people. Secondly, I find the last requirement hilarious! I suppose Microsoft sponsors the software they use. No Macs allowed.

Master's degree in: Education, Social Science and/or another related discipline
A minimum of 8+ years of professional experience in development/academic organization
Experience in implementation of education programs on a large scale
Must have lived or worked in an Asian country for at least eight years
Ability and desire to travel within the region frequently (about 30-50% of the time)
Proven track record of achieving results
Ability to juggle multiple priorities simultaneously and take initiative
Proficiency is using Microsoft Office tools

With or without reading this book; please go out and change the world!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Indonesia, Indonesia - The power of ignoring

A funny thing happens when I move around in Indonesia with one or both of my sisters here. Both of them have an Indonesian father, mine is Dutch. Since my dad's genes were also significantly stronger than my mom's, I turned out several shades lighter than my siblings. This often leads to surprised looks or exclamations varying around:"Noooooo! Are you REALLY sisters?!".

But mostly it leads to nothing. Absolutely nothing. Last week, on the bus we start talking to a woman. My sister tells her I'm her adik (little sister) and the woman asks me if I'm studying Indonesian somewhere. I'm wondering if she even heard what my sister just said. She just completely ignored the 'sister' part. And she's not the only one. Most people just did not hear that. This white girl is her sister?! No, that's beyond comprehension. So what better way to deal with it than to ignore it? Problem solved.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Something's fishy here

We all know by now that there's something fishy about fish. A few years a go the documentary Darwin's Nightmare opened our eyes to the ecologically unsustainable and socially unjust way fish was farmed at the Victoria Lake. We hear that while fishing tuna, dolphins get caught in the nets. We hear about the bluefin tuna becoming extinct if we keep on fishing it the way we do. But sometimes, we also hear some good news. On TED, my dealer of good news, there's this video to watch:

Dan Barber explains how he, as a chef, tries to cook with sustainable products. When asked to present at a conference about his favorite fish, he decided to ask the supplier for more details about this environmentally friendly fish. As it so appears, the fish were fed 'sustainable protein', which in other words meant chicken bones and feathers. Nice, especially for vegetarians. He does however find a fish that seems to be farmed in a more sustainable and healthy way. Watch this video and let Dan take you on his journey. The other talk he gave on TED, about Fois Gras, is also definitely worth watching!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A preaching hypocrite with turquoise shoes

Sometimes, I'm a bit of a preacher. I tell people which books to read (Stephen Covey), what websites to visit (, which fish not to eat (tuna), which jeans to wear (Kuyichi) and what music to listen to (Mayra Andrade). Sometimes I'm just enthusiastic and that's nice (many of my friends actually watch TED now and we share great stories). But sometimes I'm mainly being annoying.

Why is that? My vegetarian friends (and I have many) never try to convince me not to eat meat. I, on the other hand. preach about tuna. My life turned tuna free after I read an article in TIME magazine that hit a nerve with me. Several years a go after watching 'Darwin's nightmare' I didn't eat Nile Perch fillet anymore. But somehow my awareness of the terrible conditions under which the fish from the Victoria lake is caught and made into fillets, faded away.

I try to do the right things and to buy the right goods. But everything we do in this regard raises many questions, such as: how do we actually know the information we are getting (about tuna or about the good working condition of Kuyichi staff in Peru) is true? Once we start buying one pair of 'conscious' jeans should we ensure all our clothes are made by employees that get social benefits? And if so, how do we check that? Should we both look at the social AND the environmental aspects? And if we have to choose, which aspect is more important to us?

Recently, I ask myself these questions and people around me do the same. After buying a beautiful pair of green (turquoise according to the brand's website) heels, a friend asked me if I was sure they weren't made by Brazilian children. It was only then I realized, I hadn't looked into that at all. While buying the shoes, I just thought about the beauty and the quality (yes, I refuse to buy crappy shoes anymore). If we want to contribute to making the world better and to ensure that our footprint is as small as possible, how should we go about it? Should we check the whether all products we buy are biological and fair trade? Should I just stop flying airplanes? Traveling is probably my biggest contribution to an unsustainable world. Can I quit? Would it make a difference if everyone is else is still doing it?

As you can see, I have many questions about this subject. This blogpost starts my exploration of this topic and posts to come will try to answer the questions. And let me come out for it, just for the record: My name is Amis Boersma and I am a hypocrite.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ain't nothing wrong with loving coffee

At the start of this year, I mapped out my wishes for 2010 and started my personal year plan (see here). Inspired by what I had read on a lifestyle design blog, I asked my significant other what according to him was something that makes me tick, one thing that I cannot stop talking about. "Coffee" he said. "Coffee?!" I yelled, "What kind of a do-gooder am I, if I talk more about coffee than about anything else?". Well, that got me thinking. About many things, but mostly about how coffee really deserves a blogpost, or maybe even more. Because it IS true, I really do LOVE coffee.

With or without my fabulous Gaggia machine around (which is still in Amsterdam), I see it as a challenge to make a great caffe latte. I get excited when at bars they have the milk and coffee layered or (even better) when the have done some kind of foam art. I like places where they serve good cookies with your cup of koffie verkeerd ('wrong' coffee in Dutch, referring to the fact that there is more milk than coffee in the cup). A nice biscotti or thin sweet biscuit does it for me. I like it when it is clear that the person who made the coffee loves it as much as I do.

And yes, of course there are people insanely crazy about coffee. They even make Latte Art videos and post them online. Here are two great examples:

There is of course a lot more to say about coffee. And I will do just that, soon.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Ignite Jakarta - Enlighten Us, But Make it Quick

On March 4th the first Ignite Jakarta event was organized. This event started as a small scale initiative in Seattle and grew out into a worldwide event within a couple of years. The initiator of the event in Jakarta, Ramya Prajna, felt that Indonesia should also be represented during Global Ignite Week, when in more than 70 cities worldwide this event would be organized. It was a good call, because it was a great success. Especially nice for me was that Ramya allowed me to be one of the twenty Ignite presenters. All of us got 5 minutes and 20 slides (which automatically moved to the next after 15 seconds) to tell a story. The line up was really good. It consisted of famous Indonesians (the rapper Pandji, the comedian Iwel Wel for instance) and less known Indonesians, who gave smashing talks. They spoke of online communities, photography (Taking one photo each day, iPhoneography), the importance of numbers and measuring and about how to think outside the box, but execute within the box. My nephew Petho shared a great story about how he gained weight by eating the right food and working out in order to increase his self-esteem.

And then there was one half-Indonesian, half-Dutchie. My story was about 'time' in Indonesia. About how people do not look ahead and live in the moment more. And about how that is sometimes great. And sometimes not so great. The topic kept on growing in scope, far beyond what 5 minutes can hold. After philosophical debates with several family members I decided to narrow down the subject. I basically just talked about how my life here involves a lot less stress than my life in the Netherlands used to. My main point: Let Indonesian not also fall into the stress trap, but let them be effective in a more relaxed way. In order to do that you need the best of both worlds... Seen from the audience's response, my talk was a success and I have to say. I really enjoyed myself on stage! Soon the talk will be online, including English subtitles.

You can read more (in Indonesian) here and (in English) here.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Indonesia, Indonesia - Fogged out of the office

Where in the world do your colleagues run into your office saying: "Come outside now, they're coming to fog the office!" and then you grab your phone, you stand outside the office with everyone else, some guys in blue overalls come in with big smoke guns spreading out some deadly fog, only to walk out followed by cockroaches running for their lives (most of them in vain though)? Right, Indonesia. The area where I work was cleared of dengue mosquitos last week, or at least that's the idea. I hope it worked, cause I would not like to fall ill like my friend Egbert.

The fogging was quite an experience, especially since it took at least an hour before it was deemed 'safe' to move back in. Completely unprepared as I was, I hung around and chatted with the other 'evacuees'. They did not however seemed to be bothered as much as me by the smoke residues floating around. It smelled like Baygon all day and that can never be good for your health! Well, obviously someone made the decision that inhaling some toxic smoke would beat getting dengue, which I guess makes sense. While we were all standing outside though, with roaches running towards us, I wondered if there's no other way of beating the mosquitos. Or was this just an attempt to distract a bunch of human rights activists?

Anyway, at least many roaches died of suffocation that day. Also, when, one day later, I was surprised at being bitten by a very much alive mosquito, someone said: 'No, but the fogging only kills the dengue mosquitos'. Say what?! Can someone explain that to me please?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Indonesia, Indonesia - May your skin be white and unwrinkled

The past months, it hasn't been easy for me to find facial cream that wouldn't make my skin even whiter. Almost all skin products you can buy in Indonesia contain whitener! In my case, whitener is not really necessary... Actually, in the Netherlands I even sometimes bought the cream which made my skin look 'healthier' - back home that means it contains some chemical for tanning. That is where East and West still differ. In the West, we want bronze skins to look 'healthy' (and to show how often we can take holidays to warm places). In the East, whiteness is still seen as refined. It shows you have money enough to not to have to go outside. I've seen girls wearing umbrellas and gloves up to their armpits (when driving a car for instance) to protect themselves from the sun.

One thing we do seem to agree about everywhere in the world is that we, especially women, have to stay young. Or at least LOOK young. The billboard in the picture says something like "Pretty at age thirty and beyond'. The girl on the poster obviously is not thirty yet. The thirty-year old in the foreground however is happy to know that there is cream to battle her wrinkles with!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Indonesia, Indonesia - Tomorrow's leaders?

Because of my teachers, we can be smart

Right next to my apartment building is a High School. Every Monday morning I wake up from their weekly opening's ceremony on their main square. The kids all stand in their uniforms (often in the blazing sun) and recite the five basic ideological principles of the Indonesian state, the Pancasila. Usually the students are spoken to firmly and sometimes they're even scolded publicly by the teachers ("these two in the front here still have very messy hair and they will be punished accordingly later"). The teachers like to use a megaphone and preach about how the students should work harder to beat the Malaysians and the Chinese, how they cannot bring their cellphones to class and how they should not curse at school (see video).

"Often the teachers hear words that are not very nice to hear and which should not be used by students and which very easily come out of your mouths which means that these words are not uncommon to be used"

Every week I wonder what will become of these kids. Will they ever learn to use their minds freely, creatively and independently? How can they help this country forward if they were raised reciting texts and being spoken to by teachers in a demeaning way? Just recently the first two parts of a very popular novel tetralogy were made into movies; Laskar Pelangi (The Rainbow Troops) and Sang Pemimpi (The dreamer). The story is very much about education and how good teachers can bring out the best in almost anyone. The movies are box office hits and I can only hope there will be a lasting impact.

Trailer of Laskar Pelangi, the film directed by Riri Reza

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Mayra makes me happy

According to my iTunes playcount, Mayra Andrade's 'Comme s'il en pleuvait' was the most played song in 2009 (75 times). Thus, I figured a few weeks ago that it was finally time to find out what else she had to offer. Wow, what a happy surprise! In Mayra, Cesaria Evora has found a good successor to spread that Capeverdean vibe. She does it so very convincingly. The songs are cheerful and sometimes tender. Her voice and the languages (Portugese, Creole and French) match perfectly. And better yet, she's young and very pretty too. All the ingredients for a successful career, I would say. Well, whether she becomes as big a star as Cesaria or not, I'm completely hooked to her album 'Storia, Storia'. It wouldn't surprise me if in December Mayra tops the playcount list again!

Here's a song from her first album Navega (also great), Mana

And then the song that makes me happy whenever I'm sad or (more often) even happier when I'm already doing good, Comme s'il en pleuvait

'If you can dream it, you can do it' Walt Disney

As many of my readers know, I am a big fan of TED. Whenever I'm short of inspiration or relaxation, I watch another video. Lately, TED started posting videos from people that have not appeared on TED, but gave a memorable talk elsewhere. One of my favorite talks, the one by Steve Jobs I talked about here, is now also available on TED for instance.

This new feature introduced me to Randy Pausch, a professor from Carnegie Mellon University, who unfortunately passed away in July 2008 of pancreatic cancer. Before his death, he gave two one-hour long lectures; one about achieving your childhood dreams and one about time management. Both talks have truly impressed me. The topics of working hard to achieve your dreams and live with passion have interested me for quite a while, moving from Stephen Covey to Tim Ferris. Randy Pausch however gave a more sympathetic and less 'American: Yeah-You-Can-Do-It' face to it. He explains how you can achieve all that you want and be a good and appreciated person at the same time.

What I'll remember most from both talks is:
* Ask others for help or advice
* Work hard
* Delegate, but do the dirtiest job yourself
* Let people carry out a task you give them in their own way
* Only have meetings with people who want to be IN the meeting
* Thank the people who made a big difference in your life
* Spend time with the people you love
* Never give up
* Have fun (this one works out pretty well thus far)

So, if you can take the time out, watch these videos. More than 11 million people have done it already ;)

How to achieve your childhood dreams
This talk is not only good because of its content, but it's the combination of Pausch using presentation skills and aiming for emotional impact. Very smart how he points out the elephant in the room, sets boundaries on what NOT to talk about, how he tells his own personal (and emotional) story and how he gives out advice on how to live your life!

Time Management
Since Pausch only had a few more months to live, this talk may seem a bit awkward. However, since Pausch thinks these things are important enough to talk about at the end of his life, his messages certainly have more power.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Indonesia, Indonesia (Back to Hawai'i)

Honeymoon and Hostility

Upon arrival at the campus of the University of Hawai'i (or UH) in Honolulu in August 2001, the international students were greeted by the welcoming team of the International office. They had hired a few students to walk around dressed as the immigration form that we had to fill out. "If you look at my belly, you can see you have to write down your full name here". I wondered what I was doing there. After that followed a lecture on the processes an exchange student goes through when living abroad. First the Honeymoon phase where everything would be exciting and great. Then the Hostility phase where you begin to wonder why everything back home is done better.

And despite my initial skepticism it appeared to be true. Hawai'i was amazing at first; everything was beautiful (the beaches, the campus, the people), funny (people cutting their lawn with a tiny scissor while sitting on a cushion) and interesting (the Hawaiian language, the local mestizo culture). But after a few months the hostility phase kicked in; I found it hard to make real in-depth friendships with locals or Americans, my classes were too difficult (at first I was afraid to say anything in class) and the whole relaxed flip-flop existence was making me restless. Luckily the Honeymoon phase reappeared and after some months the two phases blended in together.

Why am I writing all this down? Well, now that I live in Indonesia, a country that I know so much more about than I did about Hawai'i, I find the same thing happens. Honeymoon and Hostility phases still keep interchanging. Indonesians are so open and hospitable. At the same time their nosy and aggressive in pressing their values on you. The food is great, but sometimes I long for cheese. I love walking through nature, but how come everyone throws their trash around. Every upside has a downside, or so it seems... In the posts 'Indonesia, Indonesia', I will share some snapshots of my (very subjective) observations with you.