Friday, November 20, 2009

Day to Day

I realized that I haven't really touched on the biggest part of my day, my job!  So, for something which at this point has become rudimentary and uninteresting to me, but is probably of interest to those not doing it 5 days a week, here is a general outline of my job.  
Students or "Who Needs English in an Enormous Country Where Very Few People Speak the Language?"
The students are great, they are mostly high school or uni students with a few older businessmen and housewives thrown into the mix.  Some are very rich and don't have jobs or school so they just hang out at the centre all day.  The way it works here is we have a language centre with a very big lounge area with free coffee and tables and couches and a big tv.  Then, there are a few classrooms.  The normal class is max 4 students and the teacher and you have a folder with the lesson plan.  the students hypothetically should know all the info before the lesson due to workbook and solo computer practice.  The lesson is more like a test/interview where they run through a few drills to test their knowledge of the material.  If the students really don't know some key elements of the material from the unit, they must repeat that unit.  The other kind of class is called a complementary class with 8 students max.  This is more like a regular class but again very little teaching, mostly review and monitoring of student errors.  Then our other duty is called social club, where we do fun/educational activities with large groups of students such as jack o'lantern making or bollywood dance or, on the more educational end of the spectrum, a pronunciation workshop.  
My Boss or "Who Owns My Soul in Indonesia?"
The boss is good (very laid back and has the interests of her centre's employees at heart)  for example we recently had a policy shift whereby teachers now have only 3 paid sick days, the rest are from our vacation or they become unpaid.  She said that she will do her best not to deduct any sick days beyond the three and that if we can get another teacher to cover for us, she will overlook the whole thing and assume it is a shift trade.  
The School aka "The Centre (dun dun duunnnnn)"
Location is good too.  Even though we are basically stuck at work from 1:00 to 9:00, we only work 6 of those hours.  Because its in a mall, we can just go hang in the mall during our free time, or use the net in the teacher's room.  Btw, the Indonesian concept of a mall is quite different from the Western concept, so don't get too turned off.  That being said, it does nonetheless contain some of the horrid traits of a mall (temple to consumerism etc) but it is much more open concept, in that there are many outdoor areas you can sit around in or for example, just below the centre is a snack bar which is basically a giant open terrace on the second floor.  Just saying its better than a language school in the middle of nowhere where you'd be stuck in basically a school all day with nowhere to go. 
-the thing about accomodations is that the decision is basically yours.  I opted for the slightly more expensive option because there was no sign of roaches.  All the apt.s I saw were two bedroom, cheapest was $2600 for the year, mine is $4300 for the year. Down side is, there is some kinda funk in the apt. which I don't know how to get rid of.  If you saw the other apartments I saw, you probably would have chosen mine too.  The building has an awesome pool, like frickin incredibly elaborate (no deep end though because most Indonesians don't know how to swim) and a wight room which I have made good use of.  Bottom line, because I've gotten glimpses of how the regular Indonesian lives, I really can't make any legitimate complaint about my apt.  A bank worker here gets $150US while I get $1330 so... basically I feel like a complete piece of human filth if I complain about most things.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Kelapa Gading: Glutton's Paradise

The area I live in IS food. Everything about Kelapa Gading is infused with culinary touches. The name itself means Ivory Coconut, which is a species of coconut known for its deliciousness. The area is home to Kelapa Gading Food City, which is a courtyard of decent restaurants conveniently located in the mall where I work. A note about malls, when I say "in" I don't mean indoors. In Indonesia, most malls have not only indoor shops, but also a courtyard area filled with food stands, and walled in on all sides by restaurants. At these food courtyards, you can find any kind of Indonesian food (more on that later) as well as Indian, Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese food. The variety of food to be found here is not quite on par with Toronto in terms of geographical breadth, but, this place quite possibly gives Toronto a run for its money on number of dishes available. For example, under the umbrella of Indonesian food can be found literally a dozen different regional foods. There is Betawi food, which is the name of the ethnic group that traditionally inhabited the vicinity of modern day Jakarta and West Java. One Betawi specialty is sun dried beef, which is basically like thick beef jerky. The sound of it slightly turned me off when I heard about it (sun dried+beef=??? rotten beef?) but it is in fact amazing. Also hailing from Betawi comes the wonderful beverage known as Wadung Ronde (I think?). It is comprised of ginger juice, tapioca bubbles, grass jelly, roasted peanuts, mung beans and small pieces of sweet bread. Served warm, it is the perfect way to get cleanse your palet and help your digestive system (via the ginger, and trust me, your digestive system needs help in Indonesia). Then there is Acehnese food, Sunda food, Sumatran food, Padang food, Bandung food and the list goes on. Padang food is worth mentioning. It is spicy, greasy, salty and gets right down to the heart of what culinary indulgence really is. The Padang restaurant 'system' is also worth describing. You can spot a Padang restaurant easily by looking for the two hallmarks of this region. One is the sloped roof, usually just sticking out of the facade of the storefront over the door. Then, there is also the bowl pyramid. Padang restaurants store their food stacked up in brick-like layers formed into a pyramid. When you order, a number of these dishes are brought to your table, and any bowls from which you touch, you pay for. Fried chicken, grilled fish, dried fish quiche (better than it sounds), marijuana marinated beef and green chilli salad (incendiary) all sit before you, challenging you not to sample them. For example, for lunch today, I ordered what I thought was Padang beef jerky only to be informed by a 'helpful' co-worker that it was in fact dried cow lung. It was actually pretty decent, if a little bubbly and grisly. The only bad culinary experience I've had so far also involved offal. It was a pho-like soup laden with msg, and like pho, it contained slices of semi-cooked beef which cooked in your bowl. Also like pho, it had additional goodies like tripe, tendon, something unidentifiable and sprouts. UNLIKE pho, it had no noodles, and lots and lots of the tripe, tendon and 'other'. It was really a bowl of awful/offal.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Big Durian

That is the moniker by which Jakarta is affectionately known.  First, how did I get here?

I took a flight from Toronto direct to Hong Kong, which is about 14:30 hours.  As expected, I was subject to the "random" body search by security at Pearson.  The irony was, the guard was Pakistani, and asked where I was from.  When I said Canadian/Persian dad, he started speaking some Farsi to me.  It was almost like he himself felt a touch guilty about what he was doing.  Then, I stayed a night in HK (I'm an idiot and I booked it that way) and from HK to Jakarta, another 4 hours.  So, a total of 18:30 hours to get here.  In HK I stayed in a place that was literally a roach motel.  Every time I picked up my back pack to get something out or put something back, several roaches would scatter from under my bag.  I was really worried that I would carry some stowaways into my residence in Jakarta, but luckily, there only seem to be ants there (more on that below).  It was hilarious, the room had a bathroom and shower, which were both in the same area, about 4ft x 4ft.  A sink, a toilet, and above both of them, a shower head.  On the plus side, it was nostalgic to go back to HK, good memories from my study abroad experience.  I was in a part of downtown which is pretty exciting called Tsim Sha Tsui,  a stone's throw from the notorious Chung King Mansion.  This is a huge apartment/business building that is home to the marginalized members of HK society, such as Africans, "South Asians", and some fairly rough looking South East Asians.  To those from TO, buildings (10 stories+) in HK don't house just offices, but if go upstairs, you'll find any number of establishments such as guest houses, massage parlours (the suspicious and legit kind) restaurants, electronics stores... basically anything that is relegated to street level only in Toronto.  So, I was on the 10th floor, which had not only at least 4 other guest houses, but also apartments, a web cafe and some other unidentifiable places.  Anyway, street level TST is pretty fancy, so I just strolled around there several times, looking for some food and some other familiar sights.     Arrival in Jakarta was panic inducing.  Now, if you hadn't had the experiences I've had, you wouldn't be phased by anything other than the rather quaint appearance of the airport.  But, having read a few (in hindsight) fear mongering guides on Indonesia, I was expecting to get the 3rd degree.  The airport is nice, and has some simple yet earnest Indonesian motifs and statues spread around.  But after the impressive monoliths to the future that are the HK international airport and Pearson International, the low ceilings and narrow hallways at Soekarno Hatta IA inspired more of an "awwww, that's so cute" rather than a "WOW..."  But, I had no need to worry, the incredible bored looking immigration officials simply stamp and fill in the appropriate forms as fast as they can.  I was picked up at the airport by Grace, one of the WSI employees who also booked me a hotel.  The hotel was pretty nice, and a welcome respite after the squalor of my HK place.  It was a bargain at around $47 a night for two twin beds, free breakfast buffet (which was my first taste of Indonesian food and it was terrific) pool and good service.  Finding an apartment was a bit of a challenge and I think I fared poorly.  Oh well, I still ended up with a pretty decent unit, and with a bit of personal flare, I'm sure it will look great.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Life in the Bubble

First, a note about life in Jakarta. In Toronto, if you want to go to a given destination, you can walk there, drive there, bike there or take the TTC. The sidewalks are broad, the TTC is reliable, safe and fairly direct (if not extensive) and if your in a car, the roads are wide and parking is plentiful, if a little pricy. In Jakarta, the sidewalks are either non-existent, or absolutely taken up by street vendors called "abang-abang". This means that walking even a short distance, say 15 minutes, becomes difficult (you will get hassled by the vendors and other types trying to hawk their wears or maybe pick your pockets) and the sidewalk might suddenly end and become the gate wall of the next building. So, rather than walk somewhere, or park near your destination and walk the remaining distance, you take a taxi directly to the door, or park in an underground garage of a mall. Consequently, there is quite a lot of shuttling between one enclosed area, such as a mall which may have an extensive open air courtyard but is still sealed off from "the street" and another, such as a restaurant in a strip mall complex, again sealed off from the streets. All the mall entrances have security checks, ostensibly for bombs but also to restrict access to the priviledged. I was in a car that dropped a local off in her area and at the entrance to her neighbourhood, there was a gate and three watchmen, again restricting access. This is a huge adjustment from Toronto, and to those who complain about inequality in TO, they should see this city, where the elite are hermetically sealed off from the "masses".