Sunday, January 24, 2010

Traveling with my parents

Well, it’s been awhile.

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I know I did. I had such a great holiday season because my mother and father and Phillip came to visit me in Indonesia!!! What a gift!

My mom and dad arrived on Dec. 23 late at night (actually early in the morning on the 24th) and I greeted them at the Denpasar Bali airport with great big hugs. It was amazing seeing their familiar faces, and seeing them almost brought tears to my eyes when I realized what they had gone through to get there, and what they had yet to overcome, but were willing to do out of sheer love for me. I am so loved. Thank you mom and dad. Knowing how far you would travel to see me and the cultural differences you would put up with was the perfect Christmas gift.

We spent two nights in Tuban, Bali, at a hotel that was close to the airport, but that is now not close to our hearts. We had a couple of misunderstandings that stemmed I believe from a language barrier which I tried to bridge, but to no avail. The details are dry and too long to explain, but in short they wanted more money than they deserved or had the right to.

We were staying in Tuban but spent our two days exploring Kuta beach. For those readers who are not familiar with the top vacation destination for young Australians, allow me to introduce you to Kuta beach, Bali. The Aussie equivalent to Cancun, Kuta beach is teeming with scantily clad, beer guzzling Aussie tourists, pretty much day and night 365 days a year. Sadly, any remnant of Balinese culture or their predominately Hindu religion is long gone, save numerous Hindu shrines and temples you will find all over the city, shockingly disguised near bars or street stalls.

Bali boasts a population of over 80% Hindu, and as such remains a very unique part of Indonesia. When I go to Bali, I often feel as though I have left Indonesia. The culture, the customs and the habits seem slightly different, and are, in fact, slightly different. Perhaps then, this was a strange place to start my parents’ journey into Indonesia. But I did so anyway because Bali is known for its natural beauty, beautiful beaches and warm, friendly people. I wanted to ease them in to Indonesia, and I thought a nice relaxing time on the beaches of Bali would be nice.

Kuta beach however, proved to be overwhelming. For those two days, we walked along the street that parallels Kuta beach, and each day after about 30 minutes of walking in the intense heat of Indonesia, my parents were understandably ready to find a cool place to go and sit down. So, as one is apt to do from time to time, we went to the Hard Rock CafĂ©, Bali! It was a blast, really. I’m glad I went. My parents and I gazed upon old Rock and Roll relics while we took our time enjoying the food and the air conditioning.

Oh, and as for a relaxing time on the beach, we found ourselves inundated with persistent hawkers on the beach. Every few seconds a woman or man would ask us if we would like to:
• Get a manicure, pedicure
• Buy wooden figurines carved by the seller (who knows if they actually were)
• Get a massage
• Buy a bracelet for me, my mother
• Get a cold drink
• Get our hair corn-rowed
• Buy a watch, sun glasses

Needless to say, that got old quickly. My dad did seriously consider buying a blow dart, ‘hand-made’ for only a dollar. Mom and I convinced him he couldn’t bring that back on the plane, but he still wanted it.

So to find a really relaxed atmosphere I took my parents to Ubud, Bali. We spent Christmas day traveling just a short hour from Kuta to Ubud, and had a lovely Christmas dinner at a favorite spot of mine in Ubud – Bali Buddha. The meal at Bali Buddha was so much more for me than for my parents, since they can get bagels and lox spread just about anywhere, and for me it was only my second bagel in 5 months.

Proving that we really do live in a small world, we ran into another ETA Courtney and her mother eating at Bali Buddha for their Christmas dinner! It was good for my parents to have another parent to chat with briefly and Courtney and I are always happy to see each other.

Let me just pause a moment and tell you that planning a vacation in a foreign
country for your parents is a very, very strange and stressful thing. For the first time, the roles were reversed and they were dependent on me to find us a hotel for the night, places to eat during the day, places to rest/shop, cultural sites to visit, local arts to enjoy, and transportation (since I am the only one that even remotely speaks Bahasa Indonesia). It was overwhelming, but I did it. Ubud was my first attempt at finding a nice hotel for my parents and me to stay at. I had been to Ubud only once before and we had not stayed at a nice place, so I needed to find a better place.

I had looked before they arrived, and found most places that were not completely booked to be too far from the city center. I knew I wanted to be close to the center, and the Monkey Forest because taxis are expensive and hard to come by in Ubud, and I had really intended to walk everywhere in the town. After searching for two days, I finally came across a place that sounded close to the center, and had great reviews called Garden View Cottages. I trusted the internet and other people’s reviews on this one, and I was very nervous about the place not being up to par for the kind of relaxing vacation I had in mind for my parents. Boy did I luck out.

My mother LOVED it. She told me that it was the nicest, most beautiful place she has ever stayed. Success!! The beautiful, warm swimming pool surrounded by a quiet, lush garden certainly added to this places’ charm, as well as the quiet, hidden atmosphere of the entire place. There were only 14 rooms at this place, and therefore even at full capacity as it was, the place was quiet and empty. The pool was almost always empty, and so even the first day we got there, we jumped in to the beautiful oasis-like, empty pool and relaxed away any stress we had accrued from our days in Kuta.

Ubud is the perfect place for relaxing, and after seeing the Sacred Monkey Forest, and a traditional Balinese dance, we mostly just let ourselves relax and enjoy that great food that Ubud has to offer. It was great. All of us just wanted to stay there for the rest of our trip. But, alas, they needed to experience my town and my lovely students.

Dec. 28th – We travelled from Denpasar to Jakarta early in the morning, and waited for hours in the airport for our connecting flights that would eventually take us to Gorontalo. Phillip would have arrived sooner, but the snowing conditions in the US prevented him from leaving on time. He did finally arrive at 2:00 pm to Jakarta, and the two of us quickly changed terminals, rushed through check-in, baggage screening, and made it to the gate with just minutes to spare before scheduled take-off at 2:35pm. You can get through airports a lot faster in Indonesia than you can in America. I used that to my advantage, and we made it to the terminal in time, by the skin of our teeth. Again, success.

By 9:00pm we had arrived in the Gorontalo airport, with my headmaster and other teachers waiting to greet us and bring us back to my house by car – a real treat for me (I always go back by a slow bentor).

For a late dinner we went to eat at my favorite restaurant in Limboto, Sebaya, and everyone tried their delicious chicken and rice. The kankung was habis so Phillip and my parents had to try it later. My headmaster very graciously footed the bill and took us back to my house, exhausted and ready for sleep.

Our time in Limboto was intense, exhausting, overwhelming and surreal. For two days my parents and Phillip learned what it feels like to be a celebrity. We had an Indonesian-style banquet which around 40 people attended, a party in my visitors honor, and more photographs taken of us than ever seemed possible. All toll I think there were about 900 pictures taken of us over the course of 3 days. That A LOT of photographs. Think about it.

In Gorontalo style they had karaoke at my headmaster’s house after the banquet and my dad was in heaven. He loves karaoke. I had not gotten overly tired and called an end to the festivities, I think he would have kept singing long into the night. Maybe I should have let him…

My parents and Phillip also got to see my school and meet a number of my students. Students from a variety of classes showed up to have a question and answer session with my parents and Phillip. I think my parents were really looking forward to seeing my school, and really pleased when they realized what a great community and what good hard-working students I have. They were so happy to see that I am being so cared for and loved by the whole school.

But two days of that kind of intense love can be a little overwhelming, so on the 31st, we hopped on a plane to Jakarta, and travelled by bus for 2 hours to the little mountain villages that make up Puncak Pass. Thus began our New Year’s celebrations…

I have the great fortune of knowing a generous, fun-loving, sweet Indonesian family that lives in Jakarta and vacations in Puncak Pass. I met this family in November while visiting the ETA’s Pete and Christine in Jakarta, and have wanted to spend more time with them ever since. They make me so happy.

The Fathony’s are relatives of Pete, the ETA. Pete’s eldest cousin married the Fathony’s eldest daughter a few years ago, and ever since Pete and his relatives have been a part of their family. You could not ask for a better family to welcome you in. So when Pete invited the ETA’s to join his Indonesian family in their villa in Puncak Pass for New Years I jumped at the idea. I’ve always felt that the more people you love that you can be with on New Years, the better.

So the Fathony’s welcomed my parents, Phillip and me into their villa on New Years’ Eve and together with the ETA’s Pete, Christine, Kaleda and Ab we brought in the New Year with style, Bintang and a hell of a lot of fun. Herul, the father of the family, has a crazy sense of humor and thought it would be funny to shoot the last of the fireworks towards the patio from where we were all watching. We were terrified and ran inside, but by the end we were all laughing from his practical jokes. We tried to stay up till sunrise drinking Bintang and eating rambutan, while playing chess to stay awake. It was the best New Years I have ever had, and I am so glad my parents and Phillip were there to celebrate with me.

We stayed at the villa with the gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains and Bogor below until the 2nd, thanks to the generosity of the Fathony’s. The two days of good-natured fun and relaxation were much needed for me mother who sprained her ankle on the 31st in transit. The rest helped us prepare for the intensive itinerary I had set up for my parents last four days in Indonesia.

If you are Indonesian, your top destination spot is the Javanese city of Yogyakarta (or alternatively spelled Jogjakarta). Lovingly referred to as Jogja, this city is a source of pride for Indonesians since they resisted Dutch colonial rule the most successfully. Throughout the Dutch rule, Jogja maintained its ruling Sultan as head of the proudly Javanese city. The Dutch, respecting the clear authority of the Sultan, and wanting to avoid a rebellion, allowed him to stay in his palace and still have some power over his people. To this day the Sultan of Jogja remains the sole leader of the city, living still in his impressive palace in the center of the city. Not only did they resist colonial rule most successfully, but Jogja is one of the largest producers of Batik cloth, a hand-painted specialty of Indonesia. Thus, I just HAD to bring my parents to see this exciting, artsy city.

I really am tired of boring you with the details, but just know that while I think I wore my parents out, they loved everything they saw. Some highlights of the four days was our trip to the bird market where we saw owls, bats, flying monkey-squirrel things, snakes, iguanas, and all sorts of beautiful birds I had never seen. We went when the pasar (market) was closing, but we decided it was the best time to visit as we were able to view all of these fascinating creatures without the noise and commotion of any other customers or visitors to the market.

Another highlight was actually one an hour outside of Jogja, and that was seeing the breathtaking mammoth of a Buddhist temple, Borobudur. This beautiful temple rising out of lush green rice paddies, green hills and palm trees is one of Southeast Asia’s most spectacular marvels. Built sometime between AD 750 and AD 850 Borobudur’s terraces have withstood nearby Merapi’s volcanic ash, a number of terrorist bombings and the wear and tear of millions of Buddhists and tourists alike. It has had a few well funded restoration projects, and now I believe Borobudur looks as breathtaking and enigmatic as it must have looked when it was first constructed 1200 years ago.

One of the shocking things about Borobudur is that it actually lay hidden and forgotten under volcanic ash for around 900 years! Its size and beauty were uncovered in 1815 thanks to the then governor of Java. After centuries of being buried in volcanic ash, you would think that this temple would not be able to achieve its previous glory, but I assure you it has. Yes, there are a few Buddha heads that are missing of the 432 Buddha statues that serenely stare out at you from their stoops, but the grandeur is still there. I encourage you to look into it and learn more about the beauty of Borobudur if you’d like.

The day after our trip to Borobudur I accompanied my parents to the airport and witnessed another one of my mother’s loving, tearful goodbyes that I’m sure one day I’ll be famous for too. The trip was fun for me. It was fun to show off so many of the things I am in love with about Indonesia. I sincerely hope that my parents loved seeing it all as much as I did.

For now though, I am done with this ridiculously long post, and now I am off to bed! Good night to all!

P.S. This took me four days to finish writing because I was overwhelmed by all the information I had to relay.