Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tangerang: Obama, Shopping Malls, and Breaking Laws in Supermarkets

After two days of briefings on education and culture of Indonesia, we were ready to leave Jakarta and head to our respective host schools.  The 11 TGC fellows are split among six different locations all over Indonesia, none of us really knowing exactly what we would encounter once we left the comfort of our large group and the Jakarta hotel.

As the host teachers began arriving to pick us up, it felt a bit like the end of camp as we packed our bags and headed in different directions, each promising to keep in touch.  There was some comfort in being together, and I found myself nervous about heading off with unknown people in a car in the middle of Indonesia!  Fortunately, my teaching partner Amy and I share a love of adventure and daring, and we took a deep breath, said goodbye, and headed for our first stop, Barack Obama’s elementary school.

The statue that welcomes visitors was once in a nearby park, but the Indonesians, fiercely loyal to their culture, felt it didn’t represent their entire country and moved it to his elementary school.

 Because it was Sunday, we had arranged special entrance to the school grounds.  What delighted us as we walked the campus’ brightly colored, Dutch inspired buildings were the many inspirational signs hanging from each hallway.  Two of my personal favorites were hanging above the English rooms.  It continues to impress me just how eager Indonesians are to learn English, and although many signs, menus, and directions use our language, if we look just beneath the surface there isn’t a collective use of or understanding of English among the general population.

After a 45-minute car trip at impressive speeds, the host teacher graciously unloaded at Hotel Sandika and escorted us directly into the adjacent shopping mall.  I’m sure we garnered many stares as we giggled with excitement and wonder at the bounty before us!

We spent nearly an hour enraptured by the bookstore – sort of a cross between Borders, Office Max and Target; we happily searched for useful items for our upcoming teaching assignment, as well as a few children’s bilingual Indonesian/English books. I love the interesting translations of titles and the different types of fashion magazines!

 I always find it fascinating to visit grocery stores when I travel – even when I cannot read the product names, I’m so curious about what people buy on a daily basis.  Is this what I would eat for breakfast if I lived here? 

I've never seen such a variety of mangoes!

 We immediately began snapping photos of the unusual fruits, vegetables and….eels?  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a bucket of squirming creatures; a squeal erupted, and was immediately confronted by the uniformed security guard and told to stop taking photos.  Who knew I would break the law in a grocery store?

We left a bit disappointed that beer is unavailable in the grocery store here, but satisfied with our snacks and exhausted from the over stimuli.  Although Tangerang appears to be more Chinese Buddhist than Muslim, the fact that it is Ramadan hasn’t escaped us – the broadcast prayers in the background above the continually piped in Kenny G tunes are a constant reminder.

Today I had to muster up a different kind of courage – it wasn’t the in-the-pen-with-a-Komodo-dragon type, but that inner courage that comes from having to do that which is outside my comfort zone.  As we whizzed down the Jakarta freeway with complete strangers, I had to pause and remind myself of where I was in the universe, and that we would be ok.  It wasn’t a trembling kind of fear of imminent danger, but that spinning kind of unstable, feet lifting off the ground, I’m-not-in-Kansas-anymore feeling I only get when I'm far, far away from what I know best. 

At times, I felt much more at ease here than I should; surrounded by Wendy’s, Starbucks, Baskin Robbins and Celebrity Fitness makes me feel like I’m back in California.  But when my innocence gets me reprimanded, and I cannot speak the language, I’m reminded that my culture needs to take the backseat for a while.

Thank goodness for my teaching buddy.  I'm so glad I'm not alone.  Now, where did I leave those ruby slippers?


  1. Wow! The photos of all of the mangos and the eels!

    I am so grateful that you included the photo of "No Pain, No Gain - English Lab." Wow - what a powerful depiction of how language teaching is so often practiced - the complete antithesis of how real language acquisition occurs. What a potent image.

    Hope you and your teaching buddy find a beer soon!

  2. Yes, that photo really speaks volumes. Indonesians are so eager to learn English, and it truly is amazing how much we see as we go around the town, but outside of teachers we've encountered very few proficient speakers.

  3. Rubby slippers indeed! We had a taste of home today at Pizza Hut. The food prepared by our school is...well...less than what we were led to beleive would await us in Bandung. Great words you have given here!!

    1. Thanks, David. We're had large amounts of good food...much more than we expected. Our problem is translating what we're eating - even with pictures we often have no clue about the menu!