Archive | January, 2011

Back to School and Overcoming Western Stereotypes

27 Jan

As part of the program here I was required to complete a field study about an aspect of Indonesian life. I decided that I would study Sekolah Dasar that is the Indonesian equivalent of our primary education. For the study my friend Ikka took me to her old primary school here in Salatiga for a morning. After recovering from my excitement at seeing that the school had a pet monkey, Ikka took me to see the principal and I received many curious glances as I walked past classrooms. The principal was happy for me to have a look around and asked that I go have a talk to each of the classes.


The kids were unbelievably cute and wanted to know all kinds of things about Australia such as what fruit was currently in season and if it is hot there (I was a bit thrown by the fruit question so had to guess) I did PE with some of the younger kids and got a good work out as each of the kids wanted to be my partner. There was a chance to help them out with their English with pronunciation of words like mouse, house, mosque and church. Finally we were left to our own devices in a Grade 5 classroom spent some time talking about Australia and being absolutely shocked when one of the boys could name the capital of Australia.

Overall school was quite similar to what we have here in Australia and the kids were great. The only thing that I found strange was the separation of classes for religion class into different religions with students not receiving any instruction about other religions. This school was a state school and I expected something more comprehensive in a country which has seen so much religious tension.


This was a far cry from the school I visited on Friday. The night before one of my friends told me to dress modestly so I could participate in an excursion for the level 6 students to a pesantaran (Islamic Boarding School). I was confused as to what to expect from this place as from a security studies background and from reports of mainstream media in Australia, these places have a reputation of being extremist with connotations of mujahadeen and fierce hatred of all things Western being common themes on news and television back home. We went to the school and met the Kyai (the head priest) who sat with us for tea and a chance to talk about what the school was all about.

Surprisingly this school was very liberal allowing people to visit and also operated as a trade school with students able to learn many useful skills. Another unusual aspect was the fact it was for university students who had six hours of study at the boarding school on top of university studies. I was impressed and felt this was a good introduction to something that realistically very few people know anything about. There is no doubt that other such schools operate with slightly more dubious goals however this was an example of people truly working to increase religious tolerance and understanding in Indonesia. After our talk with the Kyai we had a walk around the school meeting some of the students, following this we were asked if we wanted to go have a look inside the new mosque set in spectacular scenery with the mountains forming a magnificent backdrop. We all jumped at the chance and on the whole the visit was an incredible experience.

I realised I knew very little about Indonesian education before last week and after the two visits it was evident how important knowledge about these cultural aspects are no matter how mundane they may sound.


It’s a nice day for an Indonesian wedding

17 Jan

After experiencing the adventurous side of Indonesia at Sidomukti we returned home to Salatiga ready for a night on the couch watching movies, eating chocolate and recovering from the sunburn and bruises from our very physical day. However this plan was very quickly changed when while sitting on the couch watching some trashy Nat Geo documentaries, our host dad came in and told us he was taking us to the wedding of a friend of his son in 2 hours.

First we were confronted by what are we supposed to wear to this wedding? With the clothes I had packed more suitable for the dance floor of a night club than a Muslim wedding and no time to go and attempt to find something which actually fit me in the local mall, I was soon told that jeans and a long sleeve shirt was more than suitable and that we had to leave now as the wedding was in Boyolalyi. Now we really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into as we got into our jeep and drove for a long time on the road to Solo making small P1160111talk and wondering how far away we were as the start time for the wedding drew near. Then we saw a worrying sight. POLRI (Indonesian National Police) were up ahead on the road and the traffic was macet, stuck, until our host dad took the jeep up onto the side of the road and the friendly POLRI officer directed us into a parking spot. This alone blew my mind, the fact that the National Police had basically closed the road and were directing traffic for a wedding?

The second we walked through the door into the reception hall we saw the most amazing sight. The hall was full with room for about 800 people and at the front of the hall on the stage was a 2 metre high cake and massive couches for the bride and groom and their parents. Still unsure what would happen at P1160117this wedding and how the bride or groom really related to us, the room began to fill with Indonesian people wearing beautiful batik and traditional costumes and some of the most amazing Muslim dress I have ever seen.

Then the lights dimmed and the music started with the bride appearing surrounded by traditional dancers. The groom rode up and met her on a bicycle before they walked hand in hand to the stage together. What followed can only be described as a spectacle. There was dancers, a live band, the incredible cake, prayers in Arabic, speeches by people who we perceived to be important, Enya music, bubbles, a live band, a movie about how the couple met, I Will Survive performed in Indonesian and the release of doves. We enjoyed a 5 course meal served to us with absolute efficiency. The cake was then cut which was highlighted by the sword used to cut it and the fireworks which covered the stage at the same time and then it was over but not before the bride and groom performed a beautiful duet together. We heard basically every Western love song ever written and a great number of Indonesian ones.

As we walked out we shook hands with probably about 50 people all of whom were probably wondering who this tall white girl trying to speak Indonesian was (due to the other person living with me having Malaysian ancestry and blending in quite well as opposed to me the only Westerner) Then it was time to give the bride and groom my best wishes when I was warmly welcomed by the bride (in English) and sincerely thanked for coming to their wedding. That was good enough for me. I went outside saw the fireworks display they had arranged and had POLRI direct us back onto the busy road.

It was without a doubt the most amazing wedding I have been to and words can’t really do it any justice. There was a lot of excited conversation about the event we had just seen on the long drive back to Salatiga before we crashed after a ridiculously long day.

Adventure Sports- Indonesia Style

17 Jan

I have a general rule of thumb when going to places which offer adventure sports in foreign countries- they will either be a) talked up a lot but be incredibly sedate or b) be awesome and bordering on dangerous. When I found out that we were going to Sidomukti, an adventure park, for our excursion for university I wondered what category it would fall into. After an hours drive up windy roads and onto spectacular terraced landscapes we arrived at this park and were handed a booklet of tickets. It had 3 tickets- flying fox, marine bridge and rappelling, the last one made me particularly excited as it has been a few years since I did some abseiling.

First I went to the Flying Fox with a group of people from uni. Pak Sur one of the staff suggested I be the test and go first. I went up and looked for my harness while staring at the canyon I was about to cross which would have involved about a 50 metre drop. Then an Indonesian guy came over with what was P1150067basically just a strip of material which he wrapped around my waist in a harness like fashion. He then handed me a helmet to which I joked what use is it going to do me if I fall that far. Then I sat down and he pushed me off the ledge and I was suddenly flying at speed across the zip line so I spun around and gave a wave before seeing the cargo net awaiting me until another staff member pulled a rope which jerked me to a stop and I smacked my head into the wooden block there to catch me. Suddenly the helmet made sense and it was a real adrenalin rush.

Next came rappelling, the start to it didn’t really allow you to see how high the cliff was. So I got strapped into a proper (while still quite old) harness which I adjusted to make it actually fit after the guy put it on me, donned aP1150068 helmet and a pair of massive gloves before being asked if I had done this before. I replied I had to which they replied off you go then. At this point I decided to ask that maybe they give me a basic refresher before backing slowly over the ledge keeping my legs straight and slowly making my way down. Then I looked around and saw that I was actually going down a massive cliff and got a bit nervous. Then I got into my groove and it started to come back to me and I started doing a few jumps before making it to the bottom and waiting for some of the others to join us. On our way up we did some calculations and worked out it was a 30 metre drop which was confirmed when we asked up the top and we laughed at how you would never be allowed to do that in Australia without training first.

We decided that next we would do the Marine Bridge although it would in no way be a challenge after our epic rappelling skills. P1150077We clipped ourselves onto the wire to walk across the cargo ne t about 60 metres long over the 35 metre drop to the valley floor. It started off fine with me making good pace until I got held up at the highest point by some people in front. Suddenly my fear of heights came to me and I started to freak out a bit while still having a fair way to travel. I eventually made it across and basically collapsed as soon as I got to the other side. Then I downed a bottle of energy water before being told by an American kid we had befriended that he had scored us some tickets to go ride the ATVs.

A big group of us went up to the ATV track with some of the people who had grown up on farms on quad bikes saying it would be easy. We jumped on these bikes which bounced around and were incredibly impossible to steer. It was in the end good fun despite the bruises, cuts, burns from the exhaust and the epic crashes into fences and trees. I also got stuck when a rock fell onto my back wheel and bogged in a patch of mud. P1150079After the 3 laps of the track we sat down and watched the hilarity as other members of our group took on the track. As much as people had talked themselves up, on these crappy little bikes they were no different to those of us who had barely ridden before (apart from one of the girls who was an absolute pro). After laughing, yelling and a lot of banter between everyone, covered in mud and dried blood we headed back to a restaurant for lunch before a drive through farms and villages and a good sleep on the way home.

At the end of the day Sidomukti probably falls into category b with a lot of fun to be had but the idea that you could possibly die or be horrifically injured at any second in your mind making for a fun day. It definitely made me keen for some more abseiling and ATV riding but perhaps back home or at least somewhere where I can use a proper harness and some more modern gear.

Semarang- Colonial Buildings and Mega Malls

17 Jan

After a long week of studying, this weekend was an opportunity to finally get out of Salatiga to discover some of the nearby cities. As most of us have done the Prambanan-Borobudur double in the past it was decided that we would go down to Semarang, the capital of our province Jawa Tengah, and see what it had to offer. Previously having spent a few hours in Semarang and seeing some of the major attractions, we started with a plan to get lost within the Kota Tua (old city) and explore the new mega mall.

The bus to Semarang from Salatiga is pretty straight forward and not an overly exciting trip. What we weren’t prepared for however was the impending madness of the Semarang bus terminal where we had to argue with several taxi drivers before finally agreeing on a price and hoping that we had explained the area of town we needed to go to so someone would actually understand. After being dropped off in what appeared to be the old city we realised that we were in fact no more than 100 metres from a church and restaurant where we had lunch last IMG_0605time we were in Semarang. The morning was spent wandering through the old city before heading over for lunch and to meet up with another one of our friends and experience Paragon Mall. The city proved suprising with people everywhere wanting to say hello or find out why these 5 Australians were exploring their kampung and pasar (small villages and markets) and where the sight of my digital SLR lead to becak drivers and stall owners to stop pushing their wares and instead become models with many requests for their photos to be taken directed in my direction.

Paragon is your typical Asian mega mall. Huge, full of expensive shops and in no way a reflection of the lives of the ordinary people outside. We spent a few hours cruising around the shops, having a bite to eat (Indonesian food despite our plans to only eat Western food) and a few of us went and bought ridiculously cheap polos from the ralph boutique. After this we went to Gramedia where I spent far too much on books I will struggle to be able to read before seeing moreIMG_0592 of the old city, getting caught in the rain and having some delicious ayam bakar (grilled chicken) from Ikan Bakar Cianjur where the food and atmosphere is incredible.

The plan had been to see a movie so we went to see The Tourist with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie which despite completely lacking a plot was welcome mindless entertainment. We decided afterwards to walk to Semawis the Chinese night markets for dinner which turned out to be a longer walk than most Indonesians would bother with and left us fending off the offers of becak drivers. While Semawis was somewhat disappointing due to the seasonal rain compared to my previous experience there, the satay from the warung (food stall) was exactly what we needed after hours of walking.

All there was left to do then was to go to our hotel Candi Baru, a great find in the good old Lonely Planet which had massive rooms for about $20 a night and was just a few flights of stairs away from the best expat bar in town (apparently) named On On Pub where we spent the night talking and laughing until the early hours of the next morning.IMG_0593

Semarang is still not viewed as a major tourist destination like many more popular places in Java however when you wander through the masses of old Dutch colonial buildings and see everyday life continue among the remnants of Indonesia’s past, you gain a better understanding of the rich history of this island and this country. Semarang truly is a city which is not just a business city but a place where there is so much to discover.

Leaving Home and the long journey to Salatiga

4 Jan

Hour 1- Sydney Airport just off the train from Central

As I sit here at Sydney Airport waiting to meet up with some fellow PIBBI participants, drinking a $9 beer and trying to pretend that I have had more than 3 hours sleep since 9am yesterday I am looking back on the last day and the journey ahead.

Going back to Indonesia seems natural, although the journey this time will be a long one as I don’t have any substantial stopovers like I did last time around. I will leave Sydney late tonight, endure a 6 hours stopover in KL in the early hours of the morning before flying to Jogja, waiting for another 2 hours and catching a bus up to Salatiga. I will keep updating at different stages of the journey.

New Years Eve was incredible. I stayed with my friend at Tamarama, saw David Guetta live on Bondi and discovered a lovely little bar which offered very cheap jugs of sangria and various cocktails (many of which were sampled) The night was unlike any similar gigs I have experienced in Canberra with the crowd being very friendly and lots of people wanting to have a chat. After the mindblowing experience of David Guetta and Armand Van Helden and some late night 7/11 Slushies and a trek back to “Glamarama” (eventually getting home just shy of 4am), the day today consisted of lunch in Chinatown, buying unnecessary items at Paddys and Starbucks in Darling Harbour. After being attacked by pigeons while trying to read the paper at Central Station and enduring the joy which is CityRail here I am in the International Terminal. That’s about it for now, will probably buy some duty free stuff but should probably get back to my beer as it is quickly becoming warm.

Salatiga- 6:05pm WIB (10:05pm AEST)

So here I am at my host family having had only about 2 hours sleep since I last wrote giving me a grand total of about 5 hours sleep for 2011 so far. The flight to KL was uneventful- the plane was noisy and crowded and I was exhausted so couldn’t get into any of the movies yet was not tired enough to get any sleep. Then after arriving in KL at 3am forward thinking Mel had booked a lounge for herself leaving Danny and myself to our own devices resulting in 6 hours of walking around in circles in an empty airport and a few breaks for coffee- again no sleep. We met up with Mel again and boarded our flight to Jogja thinking that it was all down hill from there. No sooner had we got onto the runway came a message from the pilot that due to a technical issue we would have to go back to the gate. Then after sitting in the plane drinking juice for 20 minutes everyone was made to get off and sit in the airport for almost two hours without any updates on the process. Coincidently we ran into some of the girls from Melbourne Uni studying in Salatiga so spent our time getting to know them. Then it was back onto a new plane for a smooth take off and even a small nap!

Arriving in Jogja was a shock as Indonesian Immigration has really stepped their game up since last year. Not only was my passport stamped but my finger prints were recorded and photos were taken. They even had an xray machine to scan everyone’s luggage. After this we managed to catch our friends to get the bus with them to Salatiga (despite being 2 hours later than expected) and endured the long 2 hour bumpy car ride to Salatiga. Since arriving I have caught up with my host family (fantastic to see them all again) and walked into town to buy a SIM Card and in what my friend Hannah would call a classic Courtney move; managed to get caught in the afternoon downpour without an umbrella.

So after that long winded explanation of what was a very long 28 hours it is time for me to go and eat some delicious Indonesian food and attempt to get a decent nights sleep before the opening of PIBBI tomorrow.