INDONESIA

I think one of the biggest adjustments I have had to make since arriving in Surabaya six days ago has been readjusting to a rapid and early equatorial sunset. The heat is not an issue – it was just as hot in the UK when I left there four days ago. The overall environment as I have experienced it thus far is much calmer than India ever was, and Asian food has never been a problem for me, but I do keep getting cut short by the sun going down so fast and so early! Which is silly, as I had the same difficulty in reverse adjusting to long evenings and twilight as summer approached in Somerset, and enduring the really really short gloomy days of a UK winter. It’s just another speed bump on the road though, and although I was undeniably sad to leave England after the longest period of time I have spent there since 1985, I find myself genuinely excited again to be fronting up for another extended period living outside the comfort zone with all the perils, pitfalls, delights and thrills that this entails. Bring it on!

For those of you who don’t know, I have taken a one year contract teaching English to primary school students at a private school in a rather plush area of Surabaya, the second largest city in Indonesia according to Wikipedia, in East Java. I have a tiny bedsit, which I have rather affectionately christened the Hovel – I have not lived anywhere this tiny since I was at college – on the nineteenth floor of a large apartment complex to the west of the city; I plan to have a scoopi, (scooter), to chunter around on as soon as possible. I have been walking every afternoon…and have to start doing so earlier in light of the afore-mentioned early sunsets…exploring the neighbourhood, and have learned more Indonesian in four days than I managed in Gujarati in four months, perhaps due to the use of the same alphabet as the English language. I’ve spent a couple of days at the school, made some new friends and got to know others better, eaten some bizarre foods, and been visited by a son…it’s been busy.

Certainly had trouble sleeping to begin with. Its Asia – of course, its going to be noisy. Here, in a predominantly Muslim city and during Ramadhan, there’s plenty going on in a highly amplified way; not the bells and drums and Bollywood of India, but the calls to prayer from the muezzins atop the countless mosques, large and small. From up here on the 19th floor, a lot of the time what I hear is what I imagine a zombie apocalypse would be like; the sounds are distorted, mumbling, rising and falling in waves. When the zombies weren’t waking me up, it was the sheer discomfort of having no pillow and using a bundle of pyjamas and underwear rolled up in a pillowslip that did…that issue got sorted out at the weekend when I lashed out on the nicest but one pillow I could find, but the apocalypse continues; music is the solution! On the plus side, I’m awake nice and early with the predawn prayers, and its fresh and cool with a sea breeze then.

The first day’s teaching was daunting, but rather marvellous. The only real error I made was in underestimating the ability of the students – they are all far further ahead than I imagined with their English, doubtless because these are children who have been attending kindergarten and preschool and immersed in English since they were tiny tots, unlike my students in India. Quick thinking produced some additional activities to keep them entertained once we had completed the lesson plan…and I was far better prepared on day two! There are some extraordinary names amongst the children, or they certainly seem strange to a Western eye – in one class I have a Queenly and a Hero, and in another, there’s a Heavenly and a Marvel. Makes it easy to remember their names if nothing else! They are very very sweet, lively, and reasonably co-operative….within the next couple of days I shall have to exercise the Eye Of Steel on at least one miscreant per class no doubt, but so far so good. Dreadful teeth…a lot of them. Hardly surprising considering the sugar consumption here, but I was really quite shocked at the state of some of these kids choppers.

Food challenges thus far; managing to successfully get across with virtually no common language that I didn’t want chicken in a takeaway meal, only to find when I got it home that the chicken had been replaced by duck; feeling the need for greens and ordering what looked like a delicious spinach dish, to find it had tiny chewy lumps of salt fish in it and to add insult to injury, a super hot small whole chilli which it cleverly concealed and saved for my last mouthful; and who could forget the cheese and chocolate crackers – awesome! but I’m getting there, enjoy a challenge, am trying to learn more Indonesian, and hope I still have some immunity left from India in terms of tummy upsets! On the plus side, I do love the coffee here, and the food when I get it right 🙂

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