Sunday, December 20, 2009

A little taste of Christmas

I was reading an email from my mom this afternoon, and as I skimmed through the lines mentioning her exhaustion after baking cookies all day with my sister, my mind flooded with memories of all the holiday traditions in my family. The "cookie baking extravaganza bonanza" is one of them, and it is an event that would make Martha Stewart bow down and hand over the golden spatula of domestic royalty to my culinarily gifted mom. Yes, I just created the word "culinarily," especially for this posting. In my parents house, there is a book shelf situated between the kitchen and dining room, and it is filled entirely with cookbooks, some of these being relics from kitchens past, as they have been handed down for grandmas and great-grandmas. In the pages of these dog-eared and grease stained collections there are recipes as well as words of love and wisdom from the hands that so carefully wrote out each measurement and instruction, and I swear they are more valuable to my mom than the house itself, right up there in sentimental value with the baby photos of my brother and sister and I. Each December she sorts carefully through these books for about two dozen favorite recipes, and then sets about preparing the pounds of butter, sugar, eggs, flour, spices and sprinkles that go into making the thousands of tiny masterpieces that come out of her oven after hours of labor. On cookie day, she enlists her army of cookie baking assistants (a different lineup every year) to shape, roll, press and decorate these little bites of Christmas as she whips up a little magic with the mix-master, and mans the oven-mitts, ensuring that each tray is baked to golden perfection. These cookies have distinct personalities every year, depending on the skill and creativity of the helpers, and they are gobbled up happily by holiday visitors regardless of any minor imperfections. Having to miss this testament to the powers of a woman with a whisk makes me a little heavy-hearted, but the comforting thing is that no matter how many years I am away from home for the holidays, when I do come back, I know it will still be happening. Watching "Love Actually" has become a little tradition of mine the last few years, since I have been missing holidays, and I every time I see it I am left a little teary watching the all the story lines wrap up in happiness, and the heartwarming scenes at the arrivals gate in Heathrow Airport. Love is Actually all around us, yes indeed, point taken. But here's the thing: it doesn't come close to the feeling of tying on a ridiculous snowflake apron and working elbow to elbow with my sister at the table, decorating shortbread and comparing sprinkle stains on our fingers.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Ups, the Downs, and the Unexpected...

Most of my November was spent in the midst of adventure, and it seems the whirlwind has slowed down for a few weeks, perhaps to allow me a little rest and reflect on these experiences. The gods of scheduling must have been smiling down on me, and I ended up having three day weekends TWICE last month; I thought the best way to spend them would be to jump on a bus (for 9 hours) and go surfing. This plan turned out to be an excellent one, although I was on the receiving end of many raised eyebrows and admonishments from my co-workers about traveling alone, I survived the bus trips and weekends away without any major incidents, or any major sunburns. I had two weekends in paradise, one at the beginning of November and one at the end, and I enjoyed every minute of them, until the time came to say goodbye to my friend, who had picked my bleary eyed and slightly toxic smelling self up from the bus terminal at 4:30 AM on the first weekend, and ensured that I was looked after for every moment of these little adventures. I spent many hours soaking up the bliss that comes with looking at the ocean and feeling the breeze on your face and the sun on your back and had a little extra skip in my step for a few days after I came back to Depok. I was scratched and bruised from surfing and tree climbing, mosquito bitten and exhausted after the bus rides, but exhilarated with the knowledge that I am capable of traveling independently through this beautiful country. Now the only trouble is that I am greedy for more holidays!

My second type of adventure was not quite so enjoyable, but I suppose if I were the masochistic type it would have been something special. My mom keeps going out of her way to send me packages of goodies from home, and the Indonesian postal service seems to have made it their personal mission to make as much money as possible from these little care parcels. I received a notice that my package had arrived, except that I couldn't pick it up unless I payed a ridiculous fee, essentially ransom. This was the second time my mail was held hostage, only to be released for a fee, and I was steamed up and ready to have a stand off with whatever postal worker crossed my path. When I went to the counter to argue about it in my terribly broken Indonesian I was frustrated to the point of tears because the employees told me that yes, this is just corruption, but they couldn't change it, and if I wanted to barter then I had to go into central Jakarta where the mail goes through customs. The next day, equipped with a translator from the school and a huge sense of indignation, the 2 hour journey to the central post office was embarked upon; the quest for reducing this "Bule fee" was ON. To make a painfully long story short, after three hours of negotiation, acquiring false emails to state the contents of this parcel and their worth, I was essentially told that it was possible to change the price, but that they didn't want to, and that was final. By the time I got back to school to teach after another two hours of traffic I was as exhausted as if I had swum back to Canada for a holiday, and my students probably didn't see me at my best that day.

I have noticed this month that as much as my Indonesian is still very broken, it is like a door has been unlocked in my brain and all these new words are rushing in and introducing themselves to my memory bank. I have found myself understanding a lot more conversations than I imagined I would ever be able to here, and the odd word slips out while I am in the middle of a conversation in English. Traveling alone provided soooooo many opportunities to practice, and being stuck on a bus beside a guy who was determined to know my whole life story, in a language I can't really speak was a testament to the fact that when someone wantly badly enough to communicate, it will happen. It has also left me wondering though, just how many marriage proposals I have had since I got here and just didn't know it, because now that I know what the guys are saying to me, it seems to be a pretty common theme in their line of questioning. "Are you already married miss?" they say, and I reply politely with the standard answer "no, not yet," so as not to give my new friends the impression that I intend to slide deeper into spinster-dom than I already have at the ripe old age of 26. The next question from the boys, almost with fail, is some version of "well will you marry me then?" I am getting to be a pro at turning down these proposals, simply by saying (lying) that I have a boyfriend in Canada. The disappointment on the faces of these poor guys is tangible, and as much as I feel a little bad for them, and for their heartbreak, I have to laugh at the whole idea. Although I have apparently mastered the art of turning down proposals, I still have a lot of work to do on my Indonesian skills. For some reason I have a mental block about learning the days of the week... guess I had better go back to my phrase book and do some more studying until my next adventure begins!