Sunday, September 27, 2009

An Ode to Adventure

I arrived yesterday afternoon back in Depok after almost a week of holiday bliss in and around the coastal town of Pangandaran, and took a moment to thank the universe for it's unwavering generosity. The trip started off a little bit ominously; what was meant to be a 9 hour bus ride turned into 16 excruciating hours of inching along through bumper to bumper traffic along winding rural roads, and as our swelteringly hot and overcrowded bus (there was a family of 6 occupying a seat intended for 3 people sitting ahead of me) made marginal progress I questioned my choice of holiday destination. After arriving quite late in Pangandaran, my friend Kam and I hopped into two awaiting becaks, little carts attached to bicycles, and asked to be taken to a hotel. We quickly found accommodation and collapsed into bed absolutely exhausted from the journey. My internal alarm woke me up about 6 the next morning, so I sat on the balcony with a coffee and enjoyed the fresh sea air, and then went for a stroll along the winding beach. On the way back to the hotel I came across a sign advertising surf lessons, and as I checked out the info and photos that were posted, I was approached by one of the instructors. We talked a moment and I told him I would come back with my friend, and that I was DEFINITELY interested in a lesson. Upon returning to the hotel, I found Kam awake and puttering around the apartment and soon enough, I twisted her arm and convinced her to come along for a surfing adventure. We made our way back to the Bamboo Cafe and met up with Gopang and Jaja who were to be our instructors. We geared up, borrowing boardshorts from the boys, and surf shirts to protect our bellies from chafing on the boards, and trekked across the hot sand to have some quick instruction before we got in the water. Before I knew it, we were in the water, and with a few quick pointers, I was standing up on my board, gliding momentarily across the water with a giant grin on my face. Jaja set me up time after time and eventually got me ready to catch a wave without his help. After about 3 hours of getting tumbled off the board, scraped, exhausted and deliriously happy, we cruised back up to the beach to rest. I was quickly dubbed "the real Canadian lobster," as I managed to get the worst sunburn of my life on my face, hands and the backs of my legs, even while wearing a generous layer of spf 60 sunscreen. Jaja proceeded to rub cucumbers and aloe vera all over my burn, and you know, I don't think I ever expected to have an Indonesian man rubbing vegetables on my face, but it seemed to take a lot of the heat out of the burn, so who am I to complain? The boys offered to take us sightseeing, and as much as it meant taking a leap of faith, we accepted the offer with a great deal of excitement. It isn't very often that I would hop on the back of some random guy's motorcycle, who I have known for all of 3 hours, and say "sure, take me into the countryside and through the jungle to a remote location where most tourists don't get to go, no problem!" Kam and I both got a good vibe from these guys and it turned out to be the best decision we made, because we didn't only get set up with tour guides for the entire trip, but we made some incredibly genuine friends. They took us everywhere, and hung out with us in the evenings, making sure we got the best food in town and had everything we needed. We got to see waterfalls (I even jumped off one, into a deep pool below!!!), a sea turtle conservatory, a lagoon, a canyon, a fishing/surfing village, and endless miles of countryside, all from the back of the bikes of our new friends. There is no way to describe how much our holiday would have been lacking if we had been in different company, but here's an example of how great these guys are: Gopang picked us up at 5:30 yesterday morning, just to take Kam and I to the bus station, where he waited until our bus pulled out, leaving us with the instructions to call him when we come back to Pangandaran, so he can pick us up at the station. Several hours into the bus journey home, Kam received a phone call from him, just checking on us, making sure we were hanging in there, and asking for us to let him know when we arrived back in Depok. The funny thing is, when I called saying I was home safely, Gopang couldn't stop saying thank you to me... isn't it me who owes him endless gratitude??? I have every intention of going back to this place, not only because it is a beautiful location, but the people will undoubtedly bring me back. I need to see my Indonesian brothers again! My next long weekend falls in November I think...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

It is all about perspective!

Something I have noticed recently, especially while travelling in India and Indonesia, is that the standard for beauty is very different than it is at home in Canada. I can walk down the street here in Depok on any given day, feeling a little like a flamingo trying to fit in to a flock of hummingbirds, and a guy will slowly cruise by on a motorcycle, unabashedly staring, and simply say "mau" with a look of longing on his face. "Mau" means want... you know what he is getting at. Equally as often, Indonesian ladies will whisper cantik cantik (beautiful beautiful), and reach out to touch my glaringly white arms or shoulders. This is all happening while I am walking around in the blazing sun, slathered in sunscreen, sweating profusely, and feeling like a cross between Godzilla and a hippopotamus amongst all of these beautiful and delicately built locals. Cruising through the skin care section at the pharmacy there are rows upon rows of whitening creams, all promising to give you a glowing white complexion. This so starkly contrasts the rows upon rows of tanning lotions you see in western pharmacies! It seems odd to be complimented on something like skin tone, something that is merely genetics, and besides that, it is something I have been teased absolutely mercilessly about by certain friends and family members. My sister has called my paleness "the moon tan" and other friends of mine dubbed me "Casper." At least I am a friendly ghost? I think it boils down to the fact that most people want what they don't have, so as I walk down the street here, standing taller than the average MAN with my light eyes and light skin, I am playing up to all those exotic characteristics that these Indonesians just don't have, but desperately want. I guess living here is a way to balance out that awkward phase I had.. the one that lasted from age 6 to 16. Those were some painful years, and they involved many painfully gawky photographs so maybe all this attention is meant to balance that out?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Lost in Translation? Not really...

So on Saturday, I was hanging out with Lina, my lovely new friend and neighbor, and as we were driving around Jakarta in her car (more like sitting still in bumper to bumper traffic watching people on motorbikes zip by), a song by Fergie came on the radio. I hear a small voice beside me pipe up... "what does this 'jump in the trunk' mean?" I giggled and thought to myself about the likelihood of conveying the message of "junk in the trunk," or better yet, "my lovely lady lumps" according to Fergie in a way that my Indonesian friend would understand. A quick lesson in pronunciation (jump vs. junk) and on the English idiom took place, and after explaining both the literal and figurative meaning of what it truly means for one to have "junk in the trunk," Lina started asking about who exactly has this characteristic. I started listing a few celebrities, Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, and I was interupted with a statement that showed me my teaching skills are up to par. "Ashley, you are quite slim, but I think you have some junk in the trunk!" This is coming from a 26 year old woman who has had three children but is no bigger than I was at 12... offence coud hardly be taken. We both sat and laughed for a few minutes, and I admitted that yes, I have a little more junk in the trunk than I would care to haul around. She looked at me earnestly and asked "now what about lady lumps? Is that this one?" She points quite accurately to herself (the lady is breastfeeding, enough said) and we both catch ourselves laughing again. Now I only have to wonder what the people in the car beside us were thinking!!!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Taking a plunge!

This year has been nothing short of whirlwind. 2009 started off on a FANTASTIC note in Mysore, India, studying Ashtanga yoga at KPJAYI with two of my dearest friends. After three months of struggling to come to terms with a direction in which to point my future, I hopped on a plane with a mixture of anticipation and dread, and headed home to Canada. A week in Victoria working retail left me anxious and wondering "WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE???", and I realized I had to stop waiting for some sort of divine inspiration, so I signed up for a course to teach English as a second language. A weight lifted off my shoulders as I realized that I had indeed taken a huge step towards a new path, and before I had even completed my teaching course, I secured a job in Indonesia. Breaking this news to my parents was not exactly a walk in the park... making your dad cry is never a good feeling. My mom and dad are the source of both my roots and my wings, and they took it with as much grace as possible. Do any parents really want to hear that their child (forget the fact that I am 25, I am still their baby!) is moving for at least a year to a country know for earthquakes, tsunamis, and terrorism? To me, moving to Indonesia meant opportunity for growth, adventure, culture, sunshine, and a job that would support my wanderlust, hopefully financing a second trip to India. I have slipped into the role of a teacher with no backward glance; it is a good fit for me right now, and it has also given me insight to how deeply I want to be a student again one day(but not yet!). Settling in to my life here has been a matter of rolling out my yoga mat each morning to practice, sending gratitude out into the universe for all the generosity it has bestowed upon me in the last year, and learning to laugh at the twists and turns that occur each day.