Thursday, May 10, 2007

I'm just no good at writing in my blog.

I just got back from a week long trip to Indonesia. On my first day there I purchased a very cute notepad with a pink squirrel on the front in order to keep a journal. I didn't write in it once! I blame my poor blogging ability on a combination of being to lazy, busy and obsessed with watching CSI. It could also be linked to the fear that my posts are deeply boring, and contain mere lists of activities that I've recently done. I suppose my dedicated fans (now expanded from Grandma and Grandpa to include Emma) may enjoy an update though.

Indonesia was a wonderful country and thankfully we avoided any earthquakes, volcano eruptions, flooding and acts of terrorism that the FCO warns about. I was, however, bitten by a record number of mosquitoes despite coating myself with DEET ten times a day for half the week (I promptly gave up when I realised it wasn't working). As of yet there are no signs of malaria, dengue fever or other mosquito borne illnesses, which is a mere miracle after hiking through a tropical rain forest in flip flops shortly before dusk.

Aside from my malaria worries (I was maybe overly worried about this) Indonesia was a very relaxed and happy country, a dramatic change from tight lipped 'lets just sweep it under the carpet and let everyone harbor ill feelings and guilt' Japan. Melissa, Cristin and I were visiting a city in West Java to volunteer teach and experience the local culture. We stayed with a family (the father of which had lived in New Zealand for 7 years) and got to eat traditional food, sing traditional songs and learn a little Sundanese. The teaching was great fun, with many students full of enthusiasm and an eagerness to speak English. I loved the way students would stand up and introduce themselves with "My name is Alice, and I am a beautiful woman". They loved to make you sing in class, and then perform songs with you, or ask you questions that really pushed you.

The thrill factor of our trip definitely derived in transportation. Melissa and I arrived a day ahead of Cristin, and our travelling adventures began in Taiwan. After spending the night in a hostel where we had to fight for a room, we had arranged for the hostel manager to drive us to the airport. We had expected a car...we were wrong. We faced a pick up truck with the back covered in tarp. The manager suggested one of us ride in the front cab and the other in the back but we decided to share the experience. We couldn't help but laugh as we sat in the back on up-turned beer bottle crates eating melon pan and watching the highway. We arrived safe at the airport, and flew from Taipei to Jakarta. The flight itself was quite uneventful except for the fact that whenever the plane leaned forward or back it sounded like millions of tiny rocks were rolling down the air conditioning unit. Very strange! On reaching Jakarta and getting a visa, we were met by a student from the city we would stay in. The first leg of our journey was on a very comfortable air conditioned bus to Bogor. From Bogor however, we struck a problem. As we were travelling on a Sunday, traffic was very heavy, and the buses usually have to take a longer route. With this in mind our student guide decided to use a local form of transport that looked rather like a shoddy minibus. The minibus drove in circles for close to 30 minutes trying to find more passengers before finally getting on it's way. From here on Melissa and I experienced quite unique driving as the van weaved between buses and motorbikes, often making three lanes (where the road was wide enough) and overtaking as we turned corners, unaware of what may be coming the other way. As light began to fade, so did the van, and it broke down 50 minutes from the city we were heading for. A refill of petrol and pushing finally got it started again, but not without a few near misses from buses behind us. Thankfully that was the worst driving we really saw. The only other incidents to note are Melissa's fall from a motorbike (it was going very slowly and she only had a bruise) and a '3 person on bike' short ride after getting lost on our mountain hike. We had to go back up a very windy road and I was on the back clinging onto Cristin with fingers tightly crossed. It all adds to the excitement.

We taught for about 4 days in total, swapping between High schools and classes. The rest of the time locals English speakers took us to see the sights including a fishing village, a traditional Sudanese village, a mountain hike, rice fields, botanical gardens and a volcano. Melissa and I also got to attend a wedding. It was one of those trips you can't forget really.

On the way home we stayed over night in the airport hotel. This posed a slight problem as we couldn't collect our main luggage. When we politely asked the nearest airport staff if it was possible to be escorted to get our luggage, and then return to internal area, she laughed, hard. This made it very clear that I would be without a toothbrush for the evening. I had thankfully packed Pj's unlike Mel and Cristin. Mel purchased a t-shirt to combat the problem and Cristin slept in a raincoat!

Now, it's back to reality. Japan holds lots of great things (hot showers, sashimi, low crime rate) but the freedom of expression I had in Indonesia made me realise what I miss from home. We couldn't help but note that we learnt more about Indonesian culture, medicine and healing, gender issues, religion, politics and education in a week, then what we have learnt in nearly 2 years in inaka Japan. Maybe it's the language barrier and the culture here, maybe we're not asking the right questions. I know I've let Japan pacify me somewhat, and that I'm often prone to shrugging my shoulders and muttering 'shoganai' (It can't be helped) when a situation proves a little challenging. I mean, why face it if nobody else does? Japan's group culture mentality and rigidity certainly has pros, it's developed a society that's seemingly efficient and polite, always on time and well presented. As much as I love this part of Japan, sometimes I'd like to see a little bit more character, negotiation and understanding. I'd like to see people push the boundaries a bit more and question authority and rule, or just be a little more real. At the moment, I feel that freedom to express yourself within the group is still frowned upon. The old Japanese proverb "The nail that sticks out will be hammered down" still holds true.

With these ideas in mind, it's interesting to witness the other 'private' face of Japan. The seedy snack bars and soap lands where drunk business men spend time with beautiful young women instead of their families. The high numbers of people suffering depression and work related stress. The increasing suicide rate. Is this the consequence of the ever smiling, always working, public face of Japan?

I have a feeling that nobody's going to give me an answer.


At 1:30 pm, Blogger biginjapan said...

Damn fine post after keeping us waiting for so long! I totally know what you mean about this place putting one in a passive state of mind. I am worried that my jump-start back into American culture this fall will give me a heart attack. Hope not, tho. Rock!


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