How do you measure a year?

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2 houses

3 months of flooding

2 bouts of food poisoning

30 days of fasting for Ramadan

7 modes of transportation

1 favorite coffee shop

17 books read

1 bangin’ tan (by my own personal standards)

3 dirty old men who thought they had a chance with me.

 

 

640+ language lessons given

100+ students

1 favorite class.

 

 

12 trips taken

3 border crossings

7 islands

12 beaches

2 snorkeling excursions

2 taxi rides where I thought I was going to die

1400 photos

1 well-used Lonely Planet guidebook.

 

 

1 moment of weakness

Countless moments of strength

11 meaningful connections

2 visits from friends

1 blast from the past

3 pangs of sadness

2 pieces of advice not taken

1 moment of denial

1 demon exercised.

 

 

4 admissions of why I wouldn’t be a suitable girlfriend.

 

 

7 family nights

1 fabulous birthday

1 birthday wish yet to be fulfilled.

 

 

1 person I will carry with me for the rest of my life

2 people I had to let go.

 

 

2 challenges overcome

2 important lessons learned

4 instances of wanting what I can’t have.

 

 

3 days of laughing so hard that I cried.

1 day of crying so hard that I laughed.

 

 

52 blog followers

32 blog posts added

2,000+ blog views

Multiple shitty internet connections…

 

 

6 months of language lessons received

1 language partially learned.

 

 

8 job applications

2 job interviews

2 job offers

2 jobs accepted.

 

 

3 mind-blowing moments

4 sleepless nights

A few unforgettable late-night conversations.

 

 

2 volunteer experiences

4 moments of extreme pride

365 chances to improve the world

1 horizon expanded

1 life-changing, unforgettable experience

1 promise to return.

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Quantifying Progress?

Never before have I had a job in which the quality or effectiveness of my work has been hard to identify or prove.  Like nailing jello to a wall, sometimes it seems as if I’ll never pin down how much I’m delivering and if it’s enough.

And I’m not just talking about grammar points and formulas, but planting the seeds of creative desire, hopefully leading students to yearn for more, to experiment with a beautiful language, even if it’s wrapped in difficulty.

Repeatedly I ask myself questions like, “Have I gone above and beyond?”, “Have I been the inspiration I had hoped I would be?”, “Did I plant the seeds of knowledge and not just weeds?”

I put myself in the shoes of my students and wonder if they can relate to my enthusiasm and passion when their own language has so few words and mine has so many.

In addition to being a grammar instructor, writing coach and professional baby-sitter in some cases, I’ve also found myself taking on the role of female empowerer and tactful debunker.  I sometimes forget how young and shletered my students are.  This is through no fault of their own, but in those moments of realization, I’ve learned to take an opportunity to expand their minds wherever I can.

I know the students and management are very sad to see me go.  I combine that with the notion that I’ve worked my butt off this year, and feel that I’ve done my personal best.  So I absolutely feel successful, even though I’ve asked more questions than I’ve answered and learned more than I’ve taught.  But maybe that’s ok.  Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be.  If I’m always learning, perhaps I’ll be a better teacher.

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Singapore…part deux

Having only been to Singapore once before…for about 10 hours…I wanted to arrange a weekend getaway to see more of the city/country. It really is a great place to spend a few days.  Although it’s much more expensive than Indonesia, it’s organized and efficient which means you can do a lot in a short period.

After arriving and getting a necessary MRT card, I headed to the Bugis area to find a cheap hostel. (Cheap is a relative term that I use loosely here. I’ve been used to spending $10-20 on a hotel room in Indonesia.  But in Singapore, “cheap” means $60).  It was more than I was hoping to spend, but beggars can’t be choosers.

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I love that Singapore is a melting pot of cultures. Just a few blocks away from the hotel was an amazing street filled with all different varieties of food and everything was open late.  After a delicious Turkish meal and then a drink at the nearby café called “Going OM,” which had impressive live music, it was time to relax and head to bed.

The next day was filled with sight-seeing. In the morning, the excitement began with a stroll around Chinatown and continued with an open-air double-decker bus tour of the city.

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It was a great way to see all the basic points. I got to see the Singapore Flyer…the large Ferris wheel…and then hoped off near the marina area.

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This area was really great. The “Gardens by the Bay” is a wonderful area to stroll around.  There are many fun things to see and everywhere you look there was something new to explore.

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I was able to stop by the ArtScience museum to check out “Flux Realities: A showcase of Chinese Contemporary Photography” which was really beautiful.

At the end of the night, I was able to go to the observation area of the Marina Bay Sands hotel for a beautiful evening view.

I look forward to coming back to Singapore in the future to keep exploring!

 

 

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An Ode to Jakarta

There’s an order to the chaos,

There’s a rhyme to the reason,

There’s a beauty to the madness,

No matter what the season.

With so much humidity and heat,

The rainy months really are a treat.

It’s big and it’s loud,

It’s noisy and it’s proud.

There are malls and traffic everywhere,

But it’s a bustling city, so I guess that’s only fair.

There are beautiful mountains and amazing beaches,

And ample opportunities if only one reaches.

My time has come and gone so quickly.

A year ago I was so green.

I reminisce about the memories I’ve made.

In the craziness, I’ve found the serene.

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Beauteous Belitung

Nestled in the Java Sea, off the coast of Sumatra, lies a small, yet wondrous island.  At about 1,800 square miles, the island of Belitung is right in the middle between the size of Rhode Island and the size of Delaware.

Being only a 40-minute flight from Jakarta, this island was a perfect weekend getaway destination.

The capital of Tanjungpadan was where the “hustle and bustle” of the island seemed to be.  It was easy to arrange a cheap inn for the night before heading directly for a coffee shop.  It was so early in the morning that some energy juice was needed before any exploring could begin.

The coffee shop was only a few blocks away, and it was already packed at 7:30am on a Friday morning.  The coffee was thick and strong and the men were extremely happy to see foreigners.  Usually I find posing for pictures monotonous after a while, but everyone was very nice.  One nice gentleman who spoke very good English even answered some of our questions, gave some suggestions and paid for the coffee.  It was a sincere gesture of generosity with no sense of awkwardness or possibility of false pretense…how refreshing!

I was able to acquire a tourist map after a little searching and made the first stop the Museum Pemkab Belitung.  This local government museum had displays of various pottery and metal fragments of days gone by.  The attached mini zoo was also an interesting place to wander around with its over-sized animal sculptures.

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Aft the zoo, it was time to make our way down to the fisherman’s pier and markets.  It was nice to see the colorful boats and beautiful food selections along the waterfront.

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A much-needed nap was taken back at the inn, in the comfort of AC.  At around 2pm it was time to grab lunch and then get a taxi to Bukit Perahu.  On an island known for its white-sand beaches and abstract granite boulders, every bit of coastline is gorgeous.

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I  able to explore this beautiful area just before, and then during, sunset, in magnificent, peaceful solitude.  At this time of day the heat and humidity had finally subsided and I was struck by the allure of twilight.  I could have stayed on that beach all night.

The next day we were up early, ate our complimentary breakfast of fried noodles, met up with a friend traveling to meet us and headed out to Tanjung Tinggi in the north.  This area is famous for an iconic boulder-ridden area where an Indonesian movie was filmed.  It was a fun place to climb on some rocks, pose for pictures, take a dip and eat some amazing BBQ fish.

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The weather was very hot on the island, so a day of meandering around marvelous beaches was the perfect remedy.  After a few hours of combing the coastline, we found another perfect spot to watch another beautiful sunset.

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We were now in a homestay in an actual family’s house, which worked out to be absolutely amazing.  After a home-cooked breakfast, our homestay helped us book an island-hopping excursion.

Our first stop was the island of Burung.  This was an island so tiny that it was almost non-existent.  A tiny patch of sand and a few boulders may not sound like much, but this little area is covered in starfish.

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The next stop was the island of Lengkuas.  This island was a bit bigger and drew quite a crowd.  The first task was to climb to the top of the 129-year-old lighthouse for an unbelievable view!

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Then we ate a delicious picnic lunch and made our way back to the boat to begin our snorkeling adventure.  The snorkeling masks weren’t the best and I’m not the best swimmer, but it was amazing to see so many beautiful fish and colorful coral formations.  I had a blast.

Our last stop was the island of Kepayang.  After snacking on tea and fried bananas, we made our way to the turtle sanctuary.  There were quite a few babies and only a few larger turtles being taken care of.  After making friends with the animals, our group took a moment to look around before heading back to the boat.  The water was getting choppy and we needed to get back home.  This had to be one of the best days I’ve ever spent on the water.

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The island may be relatively small compared to other parts of Indonesia, but the three full days I was able to spend here were probably some of the most memorable, and I would classify this island as one of my favorite places that I’ve ever been to.  Natural beauty, kind people and a peaceful, simple way of life…what more could one ask for?

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Cirebon

As the number of weeks I have left on my contract dwindles into the single digits, I really feel the push to organize as many weekend trips as I can manage.

So on a late-September weekend, a few friends and I were up and traveling at 6:30 am! We started by heading to the Central Jakarta area to pass through the remnants of the delicious night market for snacks, and then on to the Senen train station; destination: Cirebon.

About 3-hours east of Jakarta, near the coast, lies this small town.  My local friend was organizing this getaway, so she had us on a tight schedule.  Luckily, within five minutes of walking out of the train station, we saw a handful of hotels, so renting a room was extremely easy.

Once we dropped off our bags, we ate an early lunch of Padang food and the local soup.  With full bellies we headed to the Taman Sari Gua Sunyaragi temple.  It was a unique cave-like temple complex with lots of interesting passageways and levels.  Our tour was about an hour in the hot sun, but completely worth it.

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After that we headed through the town, in pedicabs, to the Kraton, or local Palace.  We saw the museum, house and original wooden carriages.

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No trip to Cirebon would be complete without going shopping for Batik. This area is known for its colorful Batik fabrics, so we all did a little souvenir shopping.  I scored a beautiful piece of silk for a wrap-skirt.

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Later that night, we all went to a big square not far from the hotel.  We enjoyed the live music while eating the local dish of Soto Betawi…delicious.  We also enjoyed Martabak…a delicious custardy pancake.  I naturally chose bananas and chocolate as toppings, and it also comes with a standard drizzle of sweetened-condensed milk.  Terrible for your health, but tastes amazing.

The next morning it was time to make the return trip back to hustling and bustling Jakarta….  A great getaway.

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A Must-See in Central Java

Central Java is one area of Indonesia I had to see before finishing this year abroad.

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Being a fan of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, I was pretty excited to visit the area which boasts TWO of the best in the country.

Yogyakarta is Central Java’s capital city and is a great cultural staple to experience.  There is so much national pride surrounding this city and expats as well as local Indonesian’s alike make the trek to this area to enjoy super cheap shopping, impressive natural beauty and famous cultural icons.  With it’s small-town feel, it was very easy to feel right at home is this area.
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After getting some requisite shopping out of the way, the real exploration could begin.  I was able to rent a vehicle and driver for about $45 for the day to see all the main points in an all-consuming, action-packed 12 hours!

The first stop was about an hour outside Yogya at the Borobudur Temple Compound.  Built around the 8th or 9th century and made of more than 2 million blocks of volcanic stone, this is the largest Buddhist temple complex in the world.

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I was able to get there right after sunrise and it truly was a magical time to see the structure and walk around in the peace of the morning.  After about an hour, the hoards of school kids began to arrive which felt pretty crowded, so I was very happy to be heading on to other sites as school groups filled every nook and cranny.

The next stop was a set of two smaller temples: Mendut and Pawon.  These smaller structures were beautiful and isolated.  It almost seemed like if they weren’t on your drivers’ or tours’ agenda, they would be lonely and overlooked.  It was great to see these bite-sized Hindu temples in the early morning sun, with no crowds, and no lines.
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Just outside one of the temples was a shop offering the infamous Luwak coffee.  A tasting sounded great after getting up VERY early in the morning to begin the day.  After visiting the Civets in their cages and trying a sip of the strong brew, it was time to stop for a quick lunch before heading on to the last temple complex.

The Hindu temple complex of Prambanan was built around the 10th century.  It consists of about 240 temple structures and is the largest complex dedicated to Shiva outside of India.

Like a row of pointy skyscrapers, this structure dominates the skyline as you enter.

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It was neat to see how the Buddhist structures were curved and wide and smooth, while the Hindu structures were tall and rocky and jagged.  Each used beautiful dark stone to convey feelings or emotions that words can barely describe.  I wasn’t just impressed with the architectural styles or in awe of the sheer magnitude…I was at peace.  I appreciate when different ideologies can exist harmoniously.  People from all over the world came out to see these structures for many reasons, and all left happy.

Having the highlight of the journey accomplished quickly, my last two days in town were spent walking up and down Malioboro Street, looking for the best souvenirs, eating plenty of street food, hanging out with some birds, visiting the huge Sultan’s Palace and taking pedicabs everywhere.

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Yogyakarta was a fun, laid-back city with the best combination of old-world charm and modern conveniences.  It’s high on my list of places to return if I’m able to continue working in this amazing country.

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