Sunday, November 25, 2012

How to eat with cats (Tidung, part 1)

I apologize for the delay in posts as of late. Things were a bit hectic and my brain was a bit scattered. Losing somebody close to you is never easy. But each day, I pray for strength and it is evident my prayers are being heard.. because each day gets a bit easier.

Thanksgiving just recently passed. I am so thankful for Skype! It allowed me to be with my family on Thanksgiving, even though I am oceans away. I am also thankful that God placed Kev in my life, even if it was for just a little bit.

As I reflect over the past couple of months, I realize I have so much to be thankful for and I couldn't have asked for a more amazing experience in Tidung. It is just what I needed.

Back in October, we had a 3 day weekend. It was shortly after my visit to Houston. Despite having to make a last minute decision, I knew I needed to get away. That's why I came to Indonesia in the first place after all. :)

The trip to Tidung was short but well worth it. We woke up not realizing what a beautiful getaway we were in store for.

from Google images - Kepulauan Seribu
Tidung is located in the Thousand Islands, otherwise known as Kepulauan Seribu in Bahasa Indonesia. There are 110 islands to be exact; however, not all of them are used for recreational purposes. Less than half are used for tourism and adventure. Thirteen of the islands are fully developed.. but not necessarily "developed" from an American perspective. I'll get into those details later. Eleven islands are resort islands, two are historic parks, 23 are privately owned (!!!) and the remaining are not available for public use.

Our particular island was called Pulau Tidung. These islands are located north of Jakarta so we had to cross the Java Sea.

I was very excited to get away from all the hassle and stress that comes along with being a teacher; don't get me wrong.. I love my job.. I really do! I wouldn't trade it for any other job, to be truthful. But sometimes, I feel like I have expended all of my energy until there is not one single drop left. If I wasn't focused on school, it was Kevin. So I knew this trip would be good for me. Plus, I was excited to see a variety of wildlife as Kev had always encouraged me to see what animals are out there. :)

We had a three day weekend so we rose early Friday morning to catch a cab to Ancol, the local marina that is roughly 15 minutes away (well, depending on traffic.. an all too common phrase here..). Aasha and I took one cab to meet up with Julia, Nicole, Danna and Lynsey. They are all teachers from the KJ campus, which is south of us.

After two claps, a pretend flapping of wings (I'm not joking), and holding up a finger to single "one" taxi, we were on our way! The moment we got in the car, I kid you not.. the ever so popular reggae hit "Red, Red Wine" filled our ears. We couldn't have asked for better timing! Even our driver complimented the situation; he reminded me of one of the Hawaiian characters from Disney's Lilo and Stitch. He was a fairly big guy and quite friendly as well.

The trip to Ancol Marina took maybe 20 minutes or so. We met up with the other girls and paid our travel agent. We had to wait at least an hour before docking the boat. There were so many people, especially bules! I didn't feel so alone for once. :) Here are some pics I secretly snapped while we waited for the yacht.

Such a happy, smiling couple <3

This guy in the white shirt had some AWESOME hair
Others on our trip included Nicole, Lynsey, Danna, and Julia. I was so happy that Julia decided to come last minute. She has such a positive aura about her and that was something I definitely needed on the trip after all the stress I had been going through. She reminds me so much of my dad. It was like having a piece of home!

Julia ventured off and chatted away with strangers, just as my dad would do if he was there.

Danna went in search of food while the others chilled in the shade and tried not to think too much about the heat and instead, talked about how our school life was going. I know some people on the trip said not to talk about school, but honestly, I think you need to vent with people who understand sometimes.

Doesn't he remind you of Mike Myers?
Before I knew it, we were in line for the yacht. Our travel agent led the way, rupiah in hand. People were not afraid to stand too close to you. That is one big cultural difference here that I am not quite sure I will ever get used to. There is absolutely no such thing as personal space. I don't think people do it to make you anxious or nervous, but it simply is just a way of life for them.

My friend Amanda explained it well when I was skyping her about this. She said in America, we're used to having "our land" or our space. When the West was fairly new, we had lots of land to settle upon despite a growing population. However, in Asian countries, it's the exact opposite. They have little land to settle upon, despite a population that is not necessarily ever-growing. Many Asian families in fact only have 1 or 2 children! But because Asian countries are very populous in general, people have grown accustomed to standing near each other. Even when we were in NYC last summer, I noticed that right away we were in China Town. It was every man for himself! They would rush into the subways and staircases, even if you were "there first."

With all this in mind, I was more than okay with sitting outside of the yacht with Danna and Julia. It was such a free feeling! To have the wind blowing in my hair and the crystal blue water splashing onto my warm skin as I tasted the salty air was so refreshing! We even saw sword fish leaping out of the water into the air. It was like something out of a movie. Here are some pics:

Me and Julia getting ready to ride the waves

Julia, me, Danna


That's Ancol in the background -- see ya!

I have learned to put sunscreen on my face post-Bali

Employee, just chilling on the motor, texting..

Oh, and here's a picture of our yacht! I am so blessed. It could have been worse. Some of our PIK teachers warned us about the wooden, rickety boats that they took in the past. Thank goodness we weren't on one of those overcrowded boogers.

Our yacht


About an hour and a half later, we arrived in Tidung. We gathered our backpacks and were led to our home by another Tidung travel agent. I kid you not, here I was, trying to take it all in, and within 2 minutes of walking on the gray, brick road, I saw a cow being slaughtered to the left, some 4 feet away. 

I was soon out of my element as all I could focus on was the fresh, bright, red blood covering the arms of the BAREFOOT man chopping an innocent cow with an ax as he ripped apart his ribcage. If that doesn't make you lose your appetite, I don't know what will. Bleh. Turns out it was a Muslim holiday thus, the 3 day weekend. Julia saw the blood drain from my face and reminded me to breathe and focus on something else. I silently reminded myself to get it together.

Local home
THANK GOODNESS we arrived at our homestay about 10 minutes later. The town around us was so rural! It was unlike anything I have experienced in Indonesia so far. The "roads" were were like little alleys, made of uneven gray brick that was clearly laid by hand. There were potholes everywhere. Children were running barefoot as toddlers clinged to their mothers who sat outside on their steps, preparing dinner as they watched the foreigners in awe. Many of the homes were run down. It still amazes me that a country so full of natural resources has so many poverty-stricken families. It's quite heart-breaking. I don't care how "lazy" people may claim them to be, no person and especially no child deserves to live in those conditions.

"Alley" road way with homes on each side

Front view of our home for the night
Our place of residence for the next night was definitely nothing spectacular, but was definitely middle class when you took into consideration the other living conditions that literally were right next door. Living in a country such as Indonesia, where poverty is on every other corner really makes you re-evaluate your life and the things you complain about. If anything, I was excited to have a place to lay my head down, unlike many families who are not as fortunate. Even around Jakarta, you will see homes built under bridges made of just sticks and rags. If they've got some sort of income, you might be lucky to see some camping tents. Our home stay had one hard as a rock, full size bed (which Julia and I claimed), another queen size mattress with little to no support and a twin mattress that the other girls divided up. We even had a squatter toilet! I'm sure you're just dying to see what all my excitement is about. Here goes...

Squatter toilet.
Now, I'm you are really curious as to how to use this thing. Well friend, you are in luck! I am a professional.

I have used a high-end squatter toilet in Singapore (it would automatically flush) but never one of the traditional ones.

Step 1) Squat (hold onto wall for support, if necessary)

Step 2) Do your business

Step 3) You have several options, depending on your mood. You can shake, use the spray hose (if they have one), or your *LEFT hand (dip into adjacent water tub of course)

Step 4) Fill up scooper with water and dump into toilet until all business has washed down. Repeat as necessary.

*It is considered socially improper to give or pass anything with your left hand as it is traditionally considered the "dirty" hand. Even if you are Western and use your right hand for such tasks, do not inform the locals. Either hand or collect items (money, papers, whatever) with solely the right hand or use both together.

We explored our new little home, turned on the Air Con ("AC unit") and shut the door as we waded in the ocean that was literally in our backyard. :) Dinner was soon served and prepared by our home stay peoples. See picture below (thanks Nicole!) What you cannot see in this picture are the several stray, TAIL-LESS, flea-infested and bony cats that swarmed around and rubbed against us as they whined for food.

One of our first meals that was prepared by the home stay company
I didn't have much of an appetite post-cow slaughter moment but I nibbled on some of the tofu and rice they provided. Other items included chicken (fried chicken, actually) which I passed on. I had a few noodles but they were a little too spicy for my taste. I think I have lost a little weight living over here, which is never a bad thing. My portions are definitely smaller! Plus, all the spices and having to eat with chopsticks also reduces your caloric intake. I am still a pathetic excuse for a chopstick user, so I used my hands or a spoon whenever available.

Our backyard view that I took with my iPhone

After lunch, we were off on quite an adventurous bike ride from one end of the island to the other! Little did I know it would involve wading over glass equivalent coral, almost being attacked by a relative of the Komodo dragon and 12 year old boys puffing away on cigarettes as they sang to Adele and laughed at our American ways.

Part 2 coming soon. :)

xoxo, amber

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