Saturday, September 19, 2009

Bandung- Part Dua

We've run into quite a few language misunderstandings. Like when my friend Alexa ordered SOUP from room service and a very sweet employee brought her SOAP. Or when Christine called to say she'd blown the fuse in her room and they sent up four light bulbs. We practiced our writing one afternoon in class by writing letters to Nellie, the woman in charge of our program. I wanted to tell her-- just simple stuff, I'm not getting complicated here-- that I am excited to start teaching in Palembang. Suffice to say, the first entry in my translation dictionary for excited is a different kind of excited. One that you should not be around children. And that is exactly what I said: "I am aroused. I want to meet my students." Spectacular. If they stone people for adultery here, I don't even want to think about what they'll do to me if I don't get that one right soon.

Then there was the time I found a food stand called "Toast Toast" at the mall that sold... yes, toast. So I got the best kind of toast-- french toast. But when the waiter finally brought it out, I didn't have any maple syrup. It seems like a relatively simple request, right? Wrong.

Waiter: *sets food down*
Me: Ooh, terima kasih! Can I have some syrup?

(Leaves and does not ever return.)

(Five minutes later, I walk up to the counter.)

Me: Hello! Can I have some syrup? *motions pouring syrup*
Waiter: Yes! Yes!
Me: Thank you!

(Nothing happens.)

Me: Can I please have some syrup?

(Waiter hands me a spoon.)

Me: No, syyyyyyrrrrruuuuupppp.

(Waiter hands me a straw.)

(I get out my Indonesian dictionary, look up word for syrup, and say it.)

Waiter: Ahh! SYRUP! Yes yes!

(Hands me ketchup.)

By this time, people are laughing at me. Finally, a nice little Indonesian girl walks up and grabs the maple syrup from somewhere I couldn't see. They would only give me a thimblefull, but finally I carried my plate up and they let me pour on as much as I wanted. French toast tastes better when you earn it.

Everyone looooves Jason Mraz here. Seriously, sometimes they play his CD on repeat in the hotel lobby. He actually played a concert in Jakarta last year. Even the roaming musicians in the street who beg for money sing “I’m Yours” to you as you’re parked in traffic. Bagus (which coincidentally means “awesome” in Indonesian) is a local guy who works at the hotel. He came to dinner with us one night, and in the taxi on the way back, I asked him what kind of music he and his friends like. “Well, mostly heavy metal like Iron Maiden,” he said. “But also The Carpenters from America. And Jason Mraz.” Haha! While that genre cocktail sounds a little odd to me, it’s pretty typical here.

Let’s talk a little more about restaurants. I, for one, am going to officially stop ordering lasagna. These people may do ayam sate very well, but they do not do Italian. After an experience with lasagna that looked and tasted like a bland burrito at a restaurant called Atmosphere, I tried again at the Dago tea house. A solid twenty minutes after everyone else had received their orders, I got a “lasagna,” complete with cherries on top and smothered in what I can only assume was mashed potatoes.

Luckily, these bad food experiences don’t set me back much. Most full meals here are about $2-3. At a really nice place, you might pay $6 at most. Efficiency is not highly regarded, though. It usually tastes quite a while before a waiter even visits the table to take our order, then to bring the food, and we always have to flag someone down to ask for our check. Once, I tried to speed the process up by asking for the check when I got my food. The waitress said, “No. You get when you finish.” Then she smiled happily, oblivious to my Western impatience.

They also tend to bring out food at completely different times. Not trying to be rude, the first person to receive their plate usually waits until everyone has been served. Here, you just cannot do that. It can be anywhere from thirty seconds to a full thirty minutes before everyone has what they ordered.

And speaking of dining out, I went to a blind restaurant a few days ago for dinner. It was AWESOME. Apparently they have these in quite a few big cities, even in the US. You order off of a menu before being seated. Then, they lead you into a completely pitch-black dining room. It's supposed to give you a sense for what it's like to be blind. Here's what I learned about being blind: I am bad at it.

You'd think your eyes would adjust eventually, but there is literally no light coming into the room. I had one tiny little silent panic right before they put me in my chair, but from then on, it was one of the coolest things I've done in my life. Here are things I learned:
1. perhaps we should have tackled speaking the native language before being blind here
2. you should not order spaghetti when you can't see what you're eating
3. I drink three times as fast when I can't see what I'm drinking
4. I eat relatively nothing when I can't see my plate. (What a dieting breakthrough!)

So I managed to down my 3 beers-worth bottle of Bintang before I even got my spaghetti. That's not including the bit I spilled all over the guy sitting across from me. And then when I finally did have my plate and found the noodles with my fork and fingers, I ate what I thought was nearly everything. I should have known when the waiter (who was wearing night-vision goggles) took everyone else's plate and left mine. And then I said I was done and he still didn't take it. I woke up during the middle of the night feeling like I hadn't eaten in a whole day. Which I suppose is possibly an insensitive thing to be upset about in a country where people literally are starving themselves for 12 hours a day for Ramadhan.

Since we had today off from classes for the holiday, we decided to go to Tangkuban Prahu, an old volcanic crater north of Bandung. It's the stuff Oedipus complexes are made of; instead of being shaped like a normal volcano, it once collapsed upon itself and now slightly resembled an overturned canoe. The legend is that a prince returned from war and fell madly in love with his mother. She was justifiably upset when she realized her lover was her son, and told him they could only be together if he could build a huge damn and boat in just one night. He set to work, and when she saw that he might actually finish on time, she asked the gods to make the day come sooner. Her son was furious and turned his boat over in a fit of rage, thus forming the volcano here today.

The AMINEF employees advised us against visiting today, saying we couldn't even imagine how bad the traffic could be after the holiday. We decided to try anyway, because even if it took a little longer, we didn't have anything else to do all day.

Oh, how wrong we were. What should have been an hour-long drive took four and a half. That is an awfully long time to be sitting in the middle seat in the back of an SUV. I suppose one advantage of the long trip is that we all had plenty of time to look at the scenery as we stopped dead still in traffic.

At one point on the trip, we passed stands and stands full of little bunny rabbits. They were adorable, hopping all around each other and wiggling their tiny pink noses. I imagined little Indonesian boys and girls going with their parents to pick out their new pet rabbits. I even started to think that maybe I could keep a little bunny while I'm here. I got so far as to decide that he would be in black and white, and I would name him Charlie and affectionately call him "my little fellow." While I was thinking about whether or not Charlie would need his own pillow to sleep on at night or if the mattress would be all right with him, traffic started to crawl again.

And then my heart stopped. After we passed all the stands of bunnies, we started to pass through block after block of restaurants. Restaurants. Restaurants with pictures of bunnies on the signs. "Maybe," I said to the other girls in the car, "that sign just means that pet bunnies are welcome to dine there as well?"

"Apa kelinci?" Christine asked the driver. [What is 'kelinci?' That was the word on all the signs.] The driver held his fingers over his head and pretended to have long ears. Dear god. Poof! Suddenly my little Charlie was a bunny-ka-bob.

Explain to me why these people won't eat a fat, ugly old pig, but they're content to munch on the Easter Bunny...?!

The volcano was impressive, I'll admit that. But after nearly five unexpected hours in a car, Muncie might look like the stuff of mythology, too. We had been warned against the traffic on the roads outside of Bandung, but we really hadn't counted on the crater itself being packed. It was worse than the parking lot after an N*Sync concert; unfortunately, I can tell you that from experience.

We finally just got out of the car and walked the rest of the way to the top, our driver agreeing to meet us at the bottom. It was so unbelievably packed we could hardly walk around. We finally found a nice vendor who spoke English, and he led us to a little clearing where we could use the bathroom (for a price and with no toilet paper-- good thing we brought our own) and breathe. We also had to hire a guide, because it's required by the tourism office. We were told by AMINEF not to pay more than $1 a person.

The guy said, "$25 per one hour."
I proudly said, "No, only $1 per person."
"No," he said.

Well, crap. I didn't know where to go from here, but we HAD to get down this volcano. With my luck, it would probably have its first eruption since 1969 today. He finally agreed that we could pay at the end of the hike when we reached our car. If it only took us a half hour, we only had to pay $12.50, and that wasn't too awful split 7 ways.

"How long does it usually take?" I asked.
"Huh?" he said.
"Jam... berapa... HIKE?" I asked.
[Time... how much... HIKE? I asked.]
"20 minutes."

Ok, we could handle that. So I took off down this volcano like I was the lead on The Amazing Race. (I had just bought a couple pairs of shoes for more than two month's worth of this guy's salary, and I wasn't eager to spend more.) Whew! It might have been all downhill, but it was not easy. Most of the dirt/tree trunk steps were at least a foot and a half apart. One of our girls stepped on one of the tree trunks and broke right through it. "Oops, old wood," said our guide.

We were duped. The "20-minute" hike down to the bottom took us over an hour and a half to finish, even with me hacking through palm trees and sprinting from bugs. We finally reached the parking lot where that favorite information guy of mine promised he'd asked our driver to meet us. "Everyone, wait," I say. "Our car is black." There were no black cars. So we wait, sticky and dirty and smelly, until someone else realizes that our car was, after all, silver. And then we began the two and a half hour drive home.

I couldn't look at Charlie when we passed by him this time.


  1. Katie -- This is my official promise to make all your favorite foods when you get home. Maybe you'll want to start a list. Let's see: lasagna, yeast rolls, chocolate chip cookies, a standing rib roast with mashed potatoes, strawberry pretzel dessert, rice krispie treats, veggie wedgies, .... Can you think of other wonderful things? Mom

  2. Charlie and the Easter bunny are doomed. Amazing Race is a good way to put it ; )

  3. Momma' B...what are Veggie wedgies?

    So, how much did the tour guide charge you for the entire trip?

    Great are such a great story teller. It's like I'm going on the trip with you!!! But not really. I'll mail you a Jared figurine and you can put me in your pocket!