Continued from One step closer
I got to Jakarta relatively late, but that proved to be an advantage. I was able to avoid the traffic that the city is so well known for. In general, I found the city to be much more manageable and much less chaotic than I had heard, but I only saw a tiny bit of it.
The day of the GRE, I walked from the hostel to the testing center. Much of the walk was down small, tree-lined, residential streets. The trees were much appreciated; Jakarta is hot. Every time I leave my site, I’m thankful that I was placed in Malang, which even Jakartans know for being ‘cold’.
The GRE went well enough. I got to the testing center early and was allowed to begin right away. I skipped the breaks, so I finished much earlier than I expected to. Before I left, I chatted with one of the test coordinators, about Spain of all things. He wants to continue his education in Madrid, so I told him about my semester there (11 years ago).
The day after the GRE was Indonesia’s Independence Day. I went to the National Monument, lovingly referred to as Monas, with a German traveler I met at the hostel. There were lots of people around, but the crowds weren’t overwhelming. Umut had just arrived in Indonesia, so he had a few questions I was happy to answer. I asked him if he had been in any photos with Indonesians yet. He hadn’t, so I told him he most likely would be today. Within about a minute, my prediction came true. I told him that lots of volunteers avoid photos, to which his response was, it’s not that bad. I just smiled, because I knew we’d be in for a few more. After about the fifth photo request in ten minutes, he changed his mind and said he imagined it could get to be a bit much.
I generally don’t mind the pictures. I still prefer to be asked, and I prefer to be asked nicely, but even surreptitious shots don’t bother me as much as they used to.
The next day, Umut and I took the train to Bandung, my second train in Indonesia and my first trip to West Java. The train was very cold, and I didn’t have my sweatshirt, so I dug out my sarong and wrapped it around my shoulders. Of course some of the other passengers thought this was too good not to photograph, but I pretended not to notice. I understand the motivation. How often do you see a foreigner wearing a Javanese sarong around his shoulders?
I ended up getting off just before Bandung to go to a friend’s site, a volunteer I hadn’t seen since training. Zach picked me up at the station and brought me to his house. Later that afternoon, we went into the big city. It’s always interesting to see new places in a country I’m still just getting to know.
The next day, we went to his school for English club. It wasn’t 100% clear when it would start. We were under the impression that it had been pushed back two hours, but then we got a visitor who asked us why we weren’t at school. We set off right away, and several students were in fact waiting when we got there. We played a few games until Zach’s counterpart came. Then, the students explained a Sundanese game to the two foreign English teachers. This is how I understood boi-boian.
Two teams stand around a tower of shoes (or rocks). The teams take turns trying to knock over the tower with another shoe (or rock). As soon as one team knocks over the tower, the other team scatters. They must avoid getting hit by a paper ball (not a shoe or a rock!!) while trying to rebuild the tower. Zach and I weren’t the only ones unfamiliar with the game, so the first attempt was a bit chaotic, but we got the hang of it in the end.
That afternoon, the two of us went for a hike. This particular route had a few traditions associated with it, one of which is that you’re supposed to hike barefoot. We accepted the challenge. It rained a little bit, but the ground stayed more or less dry.
At the top of the hill, we had a beautiful view of the city and the mountains all around us. We were alone, but you’re never really alone on the island of Java. We heard construction in the valley below us and possibly a wedding in the distance. Finally, after our eyes had had their fill, we carefully made our way back down and went home clean up and eat.
I’m glad I got a chance to see a little bit of West Java. It’s always fun to see other volunteers’ sites and schools, and meeting their students and counterparts is a pleasure. Perhaps I’ll have another opportunity to visit the ‘wild west’.