Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!!!

They don't celebrate Halloween in Indonesia. You have no idea how hard it was to get a cab to this party.

I'm the Ninja. You can't tell from the picture but I'm about to kick some butt.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Adik arrived last night with Mr Huzza from the sekohla and my red blackberry.Mr. Huzza was kind enough to have the phone fixed for me after I fried it by overcharging it. Who knew? And where would I be without these people in my life looking out for me?

After Mr. Huzza left Adik stayed and sat on our balcony with us while we drank. I had found a bottle of Indonesian coconut wine at the corner store.I didn't know that's what it was. The label said VODKA in big letters but it's only 14.5% alcohol and, after Adik, read the label we discovered it's VODKA aroma. In Indonesia air means water and aroma means flavour. Whatever the language, two sips will give you a smashing headache.

We were practicing Ingris/Bahasa pronunciation when Adik asked, "What's the difference between house and home?"

"House," I began confidently, "is a building. Home is..." and then it hit me like a zen koan. I didn't have an answer.

Home is where the heart is...
Home is where you hang your hat...
Home is where they love you no matter what...
Home is where you belong...
There's no place like home...

But none of these is a good definition. Or maybe they all are.

Talking to my roommate today I remembered again that I am homeless. I made a joke about it and she said, "It must be kind of nice to be rootless."

But, I am not rootless. I may not have any place of my own to call home but my family has given me strong roots. Roots that dig deep down. Roots that tell me who I am no matter where I am.

I think it's kind of nice to be homeless. I think it must be kind of terrifying to be rootless.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hapless or Hopeless: Lessons in Learning

As much as I love teaching I am having a difficult time with my coordinator and teaching partners. The national teacher doesn't take kindly to the chaos my kids create when they're, well, creating nor the amount of scrap stationary I allow them to fold into airplanes and ninja stars and players for a game they invented that's sort of like paper fussball.  The Phillipino ex-pat just feels threatened by me and I sort of feel sorry for her because I can tell she's stressed but considering the BS she pulls I mostly just try not to scream at her, despite the headmaster's encouragement that I do so.

I have not had any of the promised training in the school's teaching approach but was told I was expected to plan our upcoming unit. I spent all of last weekend working on an exciting unit on communication, then was told, triumphantly, in a meeting on Monday it was all wrong, I couldn't teach any of it blah blah. Fortunately the headmaster stumbled on our meeting and saved me by staying and, after listening to my pitch, siding with me on the matter. The coordinator said she'd think about it but hasn't gotten back to me.

I can't say I'm winning a lot of allies either when I slap together an impromptu lesson on tenses for my students who can't seem to grasp the concept of time. In what has so far proven to be a vain attempt to help them improve verb conjugation, I downloaded a task from the internet wherein I was to read my students a story, while they looked at badly drawn pictures, and they were to identify the past tense verbs in it. I skimmed the story during my prep time but didn't have time to read the whole thing because of an "emergency" counselling matter I had to deal with.

When I got to class I began to confidently, and with great theatrics, read aloud the story of how a bird came and sat on "my" teacup then began to talk. Just as I was exclaiming with great gusto, "Oh my god!" exactly as it was written on the page, the classroom door opened and in walked the coordinator with the religion teacher. A crashing silence filled the room as they stood stunned in the doorway. I'm guessing that didn't really win me over to anyone's good books but I can't imagine I'll ever again use material in a class that I haven't fully reviewed. Lesson learned.

On Friday there was  a particularly violent storm, possibly the outer edges of a typhoon that was threatening Singapore, and, at some point between fourth and fifth period my classroom floor buckled. This was both enthralling and exciting for my students. Despite my strict instructions to stay away from it, when I returned from trying and failing to find someone to come and inspect it, the students had taped cautionary signs all along the floor fault including this one:

Pregnant floor! indeed.

Of course yesterday was ASA (After School Activities) and I am in charge of, you guessed it, English Club. Unfortunately last week was Parent Teacher Conferences and the kids missed their club so we had to get reacquainted. I had just started them on a game where I put up random letters and they have to make as many words as they can from the letters when there was a knock on my door. It was the coordinator with the Mother of one of my students who didn't come last week at any of the times she said she would. She happens to own the school so I guess that's her prerogative but I had a classroom full of students from Grades 2-5.

"No problem, I supervise students you talk," the coordinator said.

But no, the owner needed a translator.

I hadn't put nearly enough letters on the board to keep the kids occupied for the length of a meeting. Just as we were finally wrapping up our meeting, in walked the father of another of my students, a student with problems, who also hadn't bothered to show last week, along with his three of his children. Oblivious to the situation, they insisted on talking to me NOW.

"Um, one second," I pantomimed a please wait and ran to the board to write a new set of letters for my club.

Ten minutes later, as the door closed behind the father and his interpreting entourage, one of the Grade 4's piped up, "Ms., there's a bad word on the board." I turned to read the letters on the board:

F, U, D, C, K, O, A, L

I guess not all of Freud's theories were wrong.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


The bus swings through traffic
photon quick
bass thumping a
New Delhi tango in the damp night
headlights and bakso stalls
flashing by in a staccato instant
"He says you are beautiful and he loves you"
I turn back towards the window
trying to invent a new word for love
the hard won kind
the kind without needs
or demands
the kind that will wait or hurry
and never ask
It must have its own name, this kind
but what is it
that makes a brother treat another
man's sister like a whore
then threaten his own for less
What kind of a man is a brother who is
so afraid of his his own shadow?

How do we survive
in their foreign land of fear?
How can I protect you when I
have no refuge of my own
Not even a corrugated shack
perilously perched
a top
Nagoya Hill lit 30 watts dim

And then the wheels scream  to a stop
outside the glowing masjid where
one hundred veiled sisters pray
pitch perfect with the muzzein
before a squealing siren swallows avery ambient sound
and pierces my bones.

If you read the shattered shards
     like a gypsy woman's tea leaves
you will see

The only beautiful thing on this island
is you
       the ying yang sisters
silenced and in search of a word
in an unwritten, unknowable, unspeakable
that we might inhabit
from the tyranny of brotherly love.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Mermaids Prefer Chardonnay

You had one too many bottles of Chinese wine last night while your roommate and you wallpapered your room with blue butcher paper.

"I can't believe he showed up here with a bottle of wine and we were just talking about him," she says.

Not only can you not believe it but you are mortified. What possessed the man to show up on your door with and expensive bottle of Singapore wine? You added it to your ever growing liquor cabinet, next to the remainders of last weekend's bottle of vodka also courtesy of the Sing businessman, and commence worrying.

This morning you woke up happy to see the blue canvas on your wall and mostly you wanted to stay home with some music and write and draw and paint. But your roommate was exuberant about your planned kayak trip so, even though adik canceled on you at the last minute, you put your bathing suit on under your clothes and head out into the humidity to try and find your way to Barelang.

Your roommate gets off the bus too soon and you follow her deciding this might be a happy accident because you might be going the wrong way. You ask several people, none of whom can understand your anglicized pronunciation.

"Oh, Berlin? Hotel Berlin?" one man suggests helpfully.

Finally you hop into an empty bus van, white with Bambir painted on the side in blue and red, and keep heading to Nagoya Hill.

A man gets on and starts speaking to you in English.

"Do you know if there is a bus to take to Barelang?" you ask hopefully.

He asks the bus driver and his skinny blue shirted cashman.

"Oh no!," The man finally tells you. "It's very far to Barelang. Maybe 100 kms. Too far. No bus."

"Is it possible to take the bus to closer to Barelang, then take ojek?" You ask.

He tosses you a look to let you know that you are gila, but he asks the driver.

"No, no ojek!" he says again, a little impatiently this time. "Too far. Too too far."

Then bus stops and the three of you are kicked out onto the curb. Your head is aching. sweat is dripping down your back, you wish you were asleep but you have to walk another two blocks up the Hill. Any determination you may have had to get there the local way is cascading from your pores and when you finally crawl into the air conditioned cab you are relieved, if a little worried you may not have brought enough money. After thirty minutes, just as the taksi pulls of the highway and onto the red dirt road you spot the white van with Bambir painted on the side in blue and red and the blue shirted cash man hanging out the side door.

The drive through the verdant rainforest is inda and Barelang bridge calls to your mind the bridges of Budapest from one of your past lives.

Melur beach, when you finally arrive, is packed and the moment you step out of the car children start calling excitedly to their parents "Bule, bule!"

The cab driver has parked at the opposite end of the kayak shack and you and your roommate must navigate through the crowds, smiling and nodding and waving at the people who call out to you and each other to spread the news that there are bule coming through.

The kayaks are 20,000 rupiah for 2 hours or about $1 an hour, 10% of what you paid at Nongsa a few weekends earlier and you are so excited you don't even try to barter the price down. When your kayak is finally loaded and your paddle slices the water your head begins to clear, your heart begins to hum and a school of blue silver fish make a synchronized leap from under your kayak and into the air. You feel joyful again.

Forty minutes later you have made the crossing and landed on the empty beach of an island. Your island. Your roommate and you claim it the way all white people everywhere stake their territory. You give it a name. You make plans to improve it. Next time you will bring a garbage bag to clean up the trash. Next time you will bring books, and snacks and hopefully adkik to teach you bahasa. This time a beautiful bird with shimmering blue, red and gold plumage flies overhead to hide in the rainforest behind you.

It's hard to go back to the city but once you're there you show your roommate the kampong then set off to find Batam's only Mexican restaurant.


As you jalang jalang you stumble on a traditional market and make fast acquaintance with the vegetable sellers there who all want you to take their pictures.

You walk towards a crowd gathering in the square and find a man with a drum and a monkey with bicycle. Like a bad accident you want to look away but your camera just keeps flashing.

The Mexican restaurant eludes you tonight and you settle on a busy restaurant across from the parsel.

You order the ayam penyet to avoid any question of tepung but your rommie goes for the bakso mie. When her order comes right away, it is noodles in soup broth with a gelatinous grey ball and ...

"Chicken feet!" her face turns ashen and you think she might hurl.

"No it isn't," you try to reassure her but you've watched acquaintances here eat chicken heads so you are quite certain it is even before she shows you.

"Focus on the noodles," you coax but she's barely keeping her empty stomach from jumping out her throat. Eventually she manages to eat the noodles.

"Sorry for not waiting for  you but I'm really hungry."

"No problem at all. Best to eat it while it's hot," you tell her.

" Yeah, nothing worse than cold feet," she says.

When you finally make it home, adik comes over. You turn on the music, break out the three remaining single servings of chardonnay and adik, the roommate and you draw on your walls and talk about adik's so far fruitless job search, Inuit throat singing and Indonesian hoti hoti vs. North American hotties. They tease you mercilessly about your Singapore admirer whose gifted wine remains unopened on your desk.

"She made me go to the door and there he was asking, "Is she home? I brought her a bottle of wine." and when I said "Yes" I could hear her groaning in the kitchen so he must have heard. When he asked what we were doing she said staying in, when he gave her the bottle of wine she took it, said thank you and closed the door in his face."

You protest but that's pretty close to the truth. You told him maybe next weekend. He told you to text him. You said you would. You knew you wouldn't. But now you can't bring yourself to drink the bottle; guilt tastes like swill no matter how fine the wine.

You spend Sunday morning glancing nervously towards the alcohol cabinet. You no longer know if you will text him or not but you decide, when the bottle is empty, you will write a note. You will place it in the bottle, walk down to the waterfront and throw it in. You wonder if the person who finds it will be able to read English and if they do, even then, will they understand?

gila - crazy
inda- beautiful landscape
jalang - road
jalang jalang - walking
parsel - market
bakso- meatball
mie- noodles/ with bakso it's like Indonesian spaghetti and meatballs
hoti hoti - warning/ attention/ be careful

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I Am a Star, A Big, Bright Shiny Star

I have a new roommate, who is fantastic to the enth. If she hadn't shown up when she did, with her two years of classroom teaching experience, I think I might have quit three times over. But, she is here now and reassures me all the stuff my kids do, and don't do, is normal and I'm not a failure as a teacher, so I'm still here putting in 12 hour days, six days a week and genuinely enjoying every minute of it. Even the parts where the classroom spirals into chaos. Probably, especially those parts.

In Math class on Tuesday, the Kleenex Kid came running up to the front of the class and asked, "Ms., is Canada as fun as you are?" If only they knew how much work it takes to trick them into thinking they're having fun when really they're, ewww, learning.

When I do take a break an adventure inevitably breaks out. A trip to the western style grocery store two weekends ago looked like this:

The funny thing is, we didn't ask to take their picture, they spotted us and within seconds of walking into the place we were the star attraction. All the dancers whipped out their camera phones to have their pictures taken with the exotic bules and so after they hammed it up for us to take their snapshots.

Last weekend we had an invite from the owner of the Rose, my favourite pub, to stop by for drinks. This turned into an evening with some Singapore businessman in a private karaoke room. I must confess I don't remember much after our trio sang Meatloaf's "I would do Anything for Love" but there is something to be said for owning the karaoke machine all night even if the song choices are limited.I do feel badly for not calling the gentleman in the morning, though he gave me his card, and I know that I will, awkwardly run into him again, this being an island and all, but frankly I tried numerous times to reject his drinks and he wouldn't hear of it so, what's a girl to do?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A la Mode

I am quickly becoming known among my students as the teacher with mottoes and sixty second life lesson lectures. It started with:

Listen, when it's time to listen
Work, when it's time to work
Play when it's time to play.

Their behaviour has actually improved a lot in just a week so, who knows, maybe it's working.

Tuesdays are bad days for us. We have no less than five, count 'em five, 45 minute math lessons on Tuesday and most of what I'm teaching them I've not used since I was their age. So yesterday we learned  tried to learn about the median and mode but halfway through the lesson I started losing them. I moved the Wee One from a table with his friends to a desk at the board beside me in a vain attempt to curb the talking and playing.

I resumed explaining all about how the mode is the most frequently occurring number in a data set but the noise levels began rising and after 30 seconds of me trying to be noticed above the din I just yelled.

Everything stopped and, quietly, I began to speak, "Shall I tell you a secret about life?"

There were wide eyed stares and head nods.

"You get out of it what you put into it. You can show up here to school and do nothing. Just put in time-don't finish or bring your homework, don't listen to the lessons, don't do your work, talk and play through everything. But, if you do, don't expect to get anything out of it. If you put nothing into it, nothing is what you will get back. Because what is zero plus zero?"

The Wee One's hand shot up into the air.


"A mode!"

Sure, they always have an answer for the rhetorical questions...