Friday, April 27, 2007

Ahhh, massage

So in case I didn't emphasize it enough in the previous post, the availability of cheap massage is a very nice thing about Indonesia. After our somewhat tumultuous experience in Bogor, we felt we were entitled to a relaxing day off. After class in the morning, we went and explored one of the shopping districts, then ate lunch at a Chinese restaurant in a nice outdoor mall.

Following that, everyone was ready to make a visit to a spa we had passed earlier that morning. This place was definitely upscale when we walked in, so we were a little afraid that it was going to be expensive. It was more expensive, but I'd still say that $7 for an hour-long massage is pretty damn nice. An extra buck-fifty for a private V.I.P. room isn't too bad either. I also was talked into a manicure and a pedicure by Hillary since it was so cheap. Won't be doing that again, but the massage will definitely be part of normal life.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Hello Bandung

Our next destination was the city of Bandung, a metropolis set in the heart of West Java with a more laid back atmosphere and cooler temperatures. We made a relatively uneventful cross of the mountain passes to get to our destination shortly after nightfall.

Bandung is the closest thing we came across in Indonesia to a college town. There are several state-run and private universities, so the population that we encountered was much younger and more educated.

In general, we stayed with families that were more well-off than those that we stayed with in Bogor. Our friend, Hunter, was incredibly happy because he was treated to running water for the first time since leaving Jakarta. Unfortunately, Hill and I didn't have that luxury despite staying in a nice house with the amazing garden to the left.

After hanging out at the house that was used as our gathering point and getting to know our hosts, everyone eventually headed off to their respective houses and we called it a night.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Goodbye Bogor

It was our last day...finally. We said our goodbyes at the house. Gave the family a photo book of Washington that we had brought as a gift. One of the daughters around our age gave Hillary a blue jean jacket and a gaudy pink purse, which was very nice. (The gesture, not the purse.) We were feeling really horrible that the only gift we had for them was a little crappy book about Washington after they had let us stay in their home and eat their food for four nights. After saying our goodbyes, the students gathered for our final class session.

That's when we found out we were paying $25 a day per person to stay at these family's homes. Since we were sharing a room, $50 a day is actually steep compared to the $10 or $15 you would pay per night in a small hotel. To add insult to injury, we also ended up buying lunch every day for us AND our entourage.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A new look for formal events

We had been invited to a party for our last night in Bogor and the hostess offered to dress the women up in traditional Sundanese style. Because they were told that would take awhile, the women went directly from the village outside Bogor over to the woman's house. I went back to the house where we'd been gathering most of the time for the birthday party of one of our other hosts.

The birthday party was an interesting experience because it was very formal, including speeches and recitations of the Koran. The tradition includes the one celebrating the birthday having to prepare a plate first for the oldest person there and then second for whatever honored guest was present. Guess who was named the honored guest...

After getting ready for the party, my host parents and I made the trek across Bogor to where the party was being held. Unfortunately, I missed the karaoke session that happened while the women were waiting on everyone else to show up, but the actual production was very elaborate and entertaining. At the end, we were asked to make speeches, dragged onto the stage to dance with the performers, and had to pose for at least 20 photos.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kampung, that means village

On our last full day in Bogor, we were told we were going to a traditional Sundanese village where they put on displays of Sundanese culture including dance and music. We thought, "Cool, this will be kinda touristy, but there's nothing wrong with that." The village turned out to be a modern Indonesian village that was in no way touristy. We were taken to the house of the head of the village's cultural group (let's just call him the chief) and saw young girls dance to Sundanese music and men dance with musical instruments made of dried rice plants, which was pretty fun.

After the performance, we went inside the chief's house for lunch, a nice spread that fed 30 or so. At some point the chief mentioned that the main industry of the village was shoemaking, and he offered to take us to one of the factories. We thought that would be cool, so we piled in the cars and drove off to one of the shoe factories, which was not much more than a small open air room with a couple machines for cutting leather.

It turned out that the shoe factory was very close to the fountain of youth, so apparently we COULD NOT pass up the opportunity. After seeing the hole in the ground and splashing a little water on our faces, we started walking back, at which point we were immediately assaulted with the type of downpour that we had heard described, but not yet experienced. We stopped at the very modest house of one of our guides to sit out the hardest part of the rain. Literally, we sat on his floor for an hour! By that point, we were late for a party, so we decided to brave the rest of the rain and get back to the cars.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

You're on the sing

One of the unique challenges for even a laid back American in Indonesia is that very little is planned, and that which is planned, you're not told about. We had heard since our first day that we were invited to a radio broadcast at the local outlet of the national radio station. We were told that the broadcast might be distributed all over Indonesia, to which we said, "No thanks!"

We eventually agreed to go to the radio station after we were promised that we wouldn't be interviewed. We expected what you would probably expect. You're in a sound room; someone is sitting on the other side of the glass wearing headphones and talking into a microphone. What we found when we arrived, was a big room packed with people sitting on carpets and musicians in the front.

We took seats in the front and the broadcast audience was immediately told that the diplomats had arrived. The broadcast turned out to be a Sundanese sing along, featuring one of our instructors who was apparently a minor local celebrity.

The songs and speaking were all in Sundanese, a language similar to the national language, but not similar enough for us to understand a word of it....

The sing along ended when we were asked to lead the group in a song. We had learned one song the previous night, and with no other options, all of western Java got to listen to us sing "Halo Bandung".

Monday, April 2, 2007

Bamboo and massage

On our third day in Bogor, we were scheduled to check out some bamboo handicrafts in the morning and a local type of massage specialty that afternoon. We arrived at the bamboo place after having class with our teachers for a little bit.

We were greeted by a little man who had apparently dedicated his life to all things bamboo. He went on to explain to us how bamboo is a great material for building houses, furniture and anything else. We saw some of the workers who were making baskets and furniture out of bamboo and we asked one of them how many small baskets he made per day. He said two or three. The bamboo man had previously told us that those small baskets would sell for about a dollar. It's a little shocking when you realize that if the sales off the baskets only total a few dollars a day, the worker making them really can't make much to support the wife and two kids he said he had.

After a boxed lunch of rice and a little piece of meat, we were told that the bamboo place was also where we were going to learn about the local style of massage. We weren't told anything about what made the massage style unique, but we all were massaged/tortured. I really think these guys tried to see how much pain they could cause before you'd have to say something. Good times...