It’s exactly two weeks since I arrived in Surabaya, and it almost feels like home already. Although there have certainly been a few minor problems, I didn’t feel this comfortable in India for three or four months…as one of my sons said to me the other day, I went in at the deep end, choosing possibly the most confronting environment I could for my Living in Asia experiment – its toughened me up, there’s not much I can’t cope with now between my visits to China and almost two years calling Gujarat home. And when I say that, I mean absolutely no disrespect for either India or China – it’s simply that I have spent time in those two countries as more than just a tourist, mostly cruising around alone, and I’ve seen the gritty underside so to speak; survived to tell the tales, and there are many! I’m sure I have bored people to tears recounting various adventures; as an example, and please skip this if you have heard it before….any mention of sunglasses always reminds me of the time a $400 pair of prescription sunnies fell from my neck into the noisome depths of a squat toilet at the Summer Palace in Beijing on a very hot mid summers day, and the dilemma I faced – $400 or my hand in that hole? I lost them. I’m not that brave, and although I did have a bit of a poke around with a stick I found outside, nothing I’d want to pick up even with a mask and rubber gloves on emerged from the depths. Ah well, otherwise, that was a most marvellous day! Another China memory that springs to mind, and one I share with Zak; hiking along the Great Wall with him in December one year, discovering that all the pictures one sees of it are of the renovated sections which we were absolutely not on; scrambling to the top of a particularly steep and crumbling section on all fours and asking Zak what we were going to do if one of us broke an ankle…”I’ll have to put you over my shoulder and walk you out of here Mum”, he replies. I look around. Nothing but desolate, dun brown winter hills as far as the eye can see. Ha! And the flying fox at the end across a lake…I screeched in utter terror for a kilometre and a half, desperately clutching a previously unknown Irish girl also screaming like a banshee as we flew tandem along a wire above an icy lake. Zak was very proud of me doing that, as I had initially rejected the idea and opted to walk down like a sensible person after inspecting the equipment.
But I digress. Surabaya. The wind has been whistling for days, its very unseasonable, and disturbing here in the Hovel on the nineteenth floor what with the hatches into the service pipes lifting up and disappearing into the service tunnels due to the suction of the howling gale blowing through them. But its cool, there are no mosquitoes, and I only put the AC on on the nights I don’t want to wake up early, as the only way to drown out the muezzins at 4.30am is to have the windows shut. I believe the wind is the tail of the typhoon that hit Southern China a day or so ago, but I’m not sure…I haven’t really seen or read any news in days.
As I write, I’m chomping Arnott’s Cheese Shapes, found today at Hypamart…staple at Australian BBQ’s and sessions since, I don’t know, the dawn of time? Just wish I had some awful dip from Coles to go with!
Sorting out water deliveries. Said delivery took place within thirty minutes. I’m very happy, this never happened in India.
Making friends with an Indonesian lady of about my age who taught me what was what on a menu. How to reduce or increase the chilli levels. But who, unintentionally I’m sure, was the direct cause of my dinner the other night being a beautifully spiced and crispy fish head. With rice. I ate what I could. Similarly, the delicious looking spinach-y dish I ordered a few days ago which was infused with nasty chewy little chunks of salt fish, and one very hot small chilli which concealed itself until the last bite. Of course.
And the best part…teaching. I knew I was going to enjoy having the classes I have, and I do. Terrifying though four classes of between twenty and twenty-five five and six year olds sounds, it’s actually hilarious, rewarding, endlessly entertaining, and even the double sessions go incredibly fast. I have this week brought out the Eye of Doom, raised my voice to one class (using it as a ‘this is something we can do with our mouths…SHOUT! when we are angry…” – never miss a teaching opportunity – and catch, hoist up, and replace one small boy in his seat when he became a little over-excited ‘Going on a Bear Hunt’ with me and the rest of the class, but its sheer joy, really. Very different from what I did in India, but equally enjoyable. The school is an expensive private one; the children are quite spoilt in many cases, and very precocious; the first day, I realised that I had badly underestimated their level of proficiency in English, and had to think on my feet to come up with activities for them after they had raced through the lesson plan I had anticipated would take 70 minutes to complete!
But I’m winning. Being greeted by a mob of happy kids is delightful; being mobbed in the corridor by said happy kids all calling “Miss Becky!” is delightful; being told by a few of them that I had come to school in my pyjama’s the day I wore a pink and white striped shirt was delightful. This week I have used the “Going on a bear hunt” chant as a warm up to classes, and even the quieter students, who don’t enjoy participating physically, are joining in. I’ve done silly things like misread my timetable, said goodbye to one class, gone to another…and ended up back at the first one much to their entertainment. We are going to get along just fine!
I travel to school at 6.30 each morning using a ‘pick up service’ in the company of four other teachers, two local, two from the Philippine’s, and this is my first language lesson of the day; they are lovely girls and correct my pronunciation and explain the difference between formal and informal Indonesian speech to me, which is quite significant – almost like two separate languages. We have a teachers meeting at 7am, and classes start at 7.30…my students day is over at 1.30pm, mine at 2.30. I’m working with some lovely people who have been incredibly kind and helpful during the settling in process, and one guy that’s kind of weird…more on him another time! The school is air-conditioned, new, pretty well equipped, and has a good atmosphere; the Principal is a lovely woman, heavily pregnant, due any day, and extremely thoughtful and kind. There are six of us teaching English, two Australians, a Dutch/Aussie guy, two Americans and myself, and we have our own little section in the staffroom; behind us, across a partition I’ve affectionately dubbed the Great Wall of China, sit the Mandarin teachers…yes, these students are learning English and Mandarin from four years old. Not bad, hey!
After school I have been catching a taxi home; it’s not expensive at all; breathing deeply, and going for a walk. Well, I was; I have thoroughly explored the local area, and there are no pavements; the road surface is uneven, and one gets a lot of funny looks; walking is not something the locals do unless they have to. However, I discovered last week that the apartment block I live in has a pool and a gym- who knew? and have been using them instead, having never been in a gym in my life I am only game to use the treadmill, but that’s my daily walk sorted out. The pool is a different matter, a bit uncomfortable as it’s overlooked by about a million windows, but refreshing and clean. The locals are beginning to recognise and greet me, I have a favourite warung, (food stall), in the market over the road, the coffee shop staff are happy for me to sit for a couple of hours over a tea and use their wifi, It’s a nice area, and I’m happy here.
So, all is going well. I am missing some things, as I knew I would – pints, Eastenders, family and friends, most of all my lovely bloke; but I’m happy! We now have a ten day holiday, as it is the end of Ramadhan; I’m glad of the breathing space frankly, and plan to get resources and lesson plans organised for a month in advance, no more scrambling activities together at the last minute; and visit my brother in law and his family in Batam for a few days. Life is bagus!