Rocky Mountain High….. Surabaya

by Will Sanders on May 6th, 2009

Hey, I forgot to tell you something last time, in the last post, I mean. The school’s driver who got me in from the airport loves John Denver. My first ride with him I was too preoccupied with the new country and city and with the cacophony to notice what was on the radio. This morning I got into his van once again two weeks later this guy is still trucking around rocking the John Denver. On the way to sort out my immigration status I asked him about it his eyes lit up. “John Denver is very pleasant to listen to, the music is so nice.” He was almost hollering this at me. He told me about a friend of his who lives in his village, four hours away by bus, and how when his friends lady moved back to her home country the poor guy cried while singing ‘leaving on a jet plane’ which was hilarious to the driver. I thought we may go flying off the road he was laughing so hard telling me this story and the two of us drove for a time laughing our fool asses off at the idea of a friend of his crying to that song. God knows why it was funny to him or more especially why I felt like it was so damn funny, I guess you just had to be there. Later in our drive the song came on and we both started laughing again. When the song ‘Rocky Mountain high’ came on I told him that there really are rocky mountains in America, which he was fascinated to learn. He asked me if they were volcanoes and I told him I was pretty sure they were just ordinary mountains.
Immigration was fast and easy, nothing crazier than a room full of people from other countries trying to get into Indonesia. They took my prints and picture and I signed ten things I couldn’t read in good faith. The driver told me he was glad the electricity was working today, often it goes out and everyone just waits and hopes.
On the way home he started singing along to the chorus of country road, what the hell I said and I joined him. The two of us had a grand time singing that song at the top of our lungs while this guy buzzed us through traffic haphazard and happy go lucky.
Country road, take me home, to the place, I belong, Surabaya , Indonesia, take me home,
take me home
I am not about to go buy any John Denver records, but I do get the sense that I will think about today whenever I hear that song from now on, and that will be a nice memory.

The desk next to me in the teachers room is occupied by a guy who has been here a while. He is nice enough and has taken me under his wing, this being my first week. I am getting in early to make sure I have my days lessons planned out, he is always earlier. Early for a Surabayan teacher happens to be 10 am, I guess he is there at 9:30, everyone else usually rolls in around 1 or 2 depending on the days class load. But he is a nice guy and he has taken me under his wing, like I said.
He is building a house in his wife’s village, a two story affair, nice looking house. In the end he will spend in the neighborhood of less than $10,000 US dollars on the whole thing, labor and materials. The only trouble, he told me, is only Indonesians can own land in Indonesia, so if you want to build a house you have to find someone you really trust and put the whole thing in their name. So if, say, This guys wife decides to kick him out, that house is in her father’s name so there is nothing he can do about it. Another teacher told me he adores her and will take care of her always, so really he should be ok.
The people in the village are all descended from an island called Madura which means they are famous for carrying and using knives, big sickle shaped razor sharp knives. A few months ago, some people from this village went to a nearby village and had a dispute which ended in someone being gutted, throat slit, and a nasty case of mouth hacked off. This is the tribal way, first the belly, then the throat, then there goes the mouth. This is how it was done a thousand years ago, this is how it is done now. The teacher actually broke up an escalating fight over rice. In this village it is considered rude not to give certain portions of your rice store away out of respect, one guy never did, someone made a comment, and it was getting ugly, the teacher who sits next to me in the teacher’s room figures if he hadn’t have stopped the thing the knives may well have come out.
That’s an extreme case though. The Indonesians are the nicest people I have found in Asia so far. The Thais have the rep of always smiling, but for my money it’s the Indonesians. I don’t think I have ever been around a people so ready to experience joy, maybe Laos. They are such great folks, they will help you when you are lost, not rip you off when they clearly could and by all rights should, they long to use what little English they have to ask you questions. They are Muslim but not fundamentalists, traditional but not judgmental. Really good people here.
There is a little boy who lives in the house next to mine, this kid’s into kites. Every morning he is out with his kite. He calls to me “mister, mister” pointing skyward. This is my cue to stop walking and take a long moment of reflection on how high his kite is, I then act amazed at the kids kite abilities and he freaks out with happy. The food stall on the end of my little street has rice and noodles for breakfast with bits of chicken and other small flavors. Food here is piles of rice with a piece of this and one bit of that and some of this sauce here and a little vegetables there. Rarely fills me up, aside from the lady in the little food stall at the end of my street, she always does me right. I will tell you more about the Indonesians as things happen I’m sure. First impressions are good though.
The teachers room at my school is cramped, teachers crawl over one another dutifully looking for this book or that class folder in a warren of floor to ceiling book cases overflowing with texts, flash cards, fuzzy dice, markers and coffee mugs, and mountains of papers everywhere. The mood is usually light and everyone rags on everyone else, but most of them are Britts so they call it taking a piss. The ones who aren’t Britts are Aussies, the ones who aren’t Aussies are Indonesian, and two of us are yanks. Oh, and a couple of canooks.
Last week was orientation, and it was a lot of sitting in on classes and learning the ins and outs. The main problem seemed to be sorting through the ocean of books to find something germane to the class, the age level, and the grammar point. The teacher’s room is a library without a card catalogue and I am a boat without a rudder bouncing around randomly. Luckily the other teachers, especially the older guys who have been there the longest have been wonderful about pointing me in directions and helping me along, they really have.
The locals here and many of the expat’s are amazing when I tell them I take the bemo.

But Will, we don’t know what the hell a bemo is, man!


Well I will tell you. A bemo is a mini van with wooden benches running longways instead of seats, it is the only mode of transportation in Surabaya, closest thing to a public bus. The expats all have motorcycles, one guy has a bike but the problem is the stink when he gets here. He uses the toilet hose on himself and I just think that’s gross. You know the hose in your kitchen sink? Well they have those here in the bathroom instead of toilet paper. I am not really into it, it sort of leaves things on the soggy side. I have taken to carring my own tp, ahhh, the comforts from home. Before I figure out anything long term I am taking the bemo. The bemo is hot and overcrowded and takes too long. The bemo has no side door, and one may ride next to the open space in order to feel like a gunner in a Vietnam helicopter. They don’t always seem to take you where you want to go, I work in a school next to a second rate mall called plaza Delta. A much larger mall nearby is called plaza TB, its bigger than Lenox. Lots and lots of malls here. I often get taken to the wrong mall by drivers thinking they are doing me a favor by taking me to a better mall not knowing that I really want to go to work and not shop. Once I was kicked out of a bemo when it was full up and two more ladies wanted on. The driver told me the other bemo would pick me up and take me there faster, well it showed up and took me to the wrong mall and I was stuck. Bemos are color coded and I have found the purple one near my house takes me within walking distance of my school. At night the purple bemo has stopped running so for a while I was taking my chances with the other ones, but I almost always get lost that way. I tell them where I am going and so they nod and drop me off in the general five mile radius at night time. I had to learn how to say ‘which way’, ke mana. The streets are dark at night, huge hawk sized bats swoop through the alleyways, all of which look almost the same. My main worry when lost like this is trying to find my way home by ten, that seems to be when the rats wake up and take the streets over, humans become outsiders then, an unwelcome interruption of the nightly rat rituals, they seem annoyed to see me and roll their beady little rat eyes. I am usually home pretty quick though, I have started learning landmarks, and have learned direction words like right is kiri, left is kanan, straight is terus. But the whole world is empty at night here, faces every once and a while, sometimes shop owners sleep on benches outside their shops, sometimes I pass groups of young people playing guitar and drinking. But so far I have always managed to find my way home. I love being lost in Asia, it’s one of life’s little joys.
The last day of the first teaching week was pay day, so the one bar the expat teachers all seem to go to was shitty with bulays(westerners). The poor wait staff didn’t know what hit them, an hour into it they ran out of cold beer, I think we had gone through their weeks stock already, so warm beer flowed and the table tops shimmered in the moonlight with green glass from all the bottles of bingtang beer. A guy started telling me about living in Istanbul. He said that Istanbul seduces you, he actually compared Istanbul to Sophia Loren. We got drunker and he told me he loved the American show ‘biggest loser’ because he likes watching fat Americans cry. Just when I was ready to call it a night an Aussie girl wouldn’t hear of it and drug the whole party to a club called Colors across the street. It was noisy and packed with shitty music, about what you’d expect. I saw one of the older guys from my job at the end of the bar surrounded on all sides by local girls in their late teens, he saw me and raised a glass. I had a drink or two and split. I got home drunk at about 2 only to realize I had left without my keys that day. Bonner town! I spent some time hollering at my roommate’s window, very drunken Brando streetcar named desire. Next I tried to shimmy my way up the gate. I got about ten feet up before I realized it couldn’t be done. The only place to stand between the vertical poles was a horizontal pole with sharp spikes, the top of the gate had nails. True, there was a ledge along the other side of the gate, but damn if it didn’t have broken glass dried into the concrete. Across the street I found a pile of bricks, yeah, ok, I can smash the spikes with one of these. The brick became red powder in my hand with one bang against the metal spike. I was starting to feel good about my home security. Oh I didn’t want to do this. Man, if I wasn’t working early in the morning maybe I would just go out and keep partying until daylight, but I really needed at least four hours. Shit, man. Ok, what else could I do? I rang the bell.
This was the first time my maid didn’t greet me smiling. Poor lady, having to get up in the middle of the night to let me in, she doesn’t even drink, she is strict Muslim. She started talking for a very long time, the longer she spoke, the lower I hung my head. Remember my maid doesn’t speak the first word in English, but I knew what she was saying. I imagined that she was lecturing me about responsibility, maybe she was telling me she was disappointed in me, I don’t know. I do know I was being read out. She even shook a bony finger at me. I nodded, she was right. The next evening I learned how to tell her I was sorry, she smiled and laughed I was forgiven. I still feel bad about it though.
Eight came really quick the next morning. My friend Doug Brown once shared with me a great expression which all drinkers really should hear. He once told me “if you’re gonna howl with the owl you need to learn to crow with the rooster”. And so that’s what I try to do, but man it hurt. Headache and I had to go number two a lot of times and I was so tired. That morning was little kids too. Brother.
I agreed to do the Saturday classes to pick up some extra money on my next check. The plan is to work six days a week all month and then blow the whole thing on a trip someplace awesome for a weekend. Seemed like a good idea at the time.
Here I was hung over and exhausted early in the AM on a Saturday slumped in a chair waiting for the little darlings. I was clutching a bottle of water and moaning on the inside. These kids were not as far along as the students at the school in which I normally work. They were a hell of a lot more rambunctious too, and we were doing action verbs. At the start of the class, these kids didn’t understand the meaning of the word verb, at the end of the class they did though, and they had no idea I was hung over either. I ran at full speed in laps around the room jumping over chairs.
Yeah, good run is a verb, what else? Who can think of another verb?
Ok, that’s ok. Good try, we can go over this again.
The last thing we did was the alphabet with action verbs, I started them with aim and let X, and Z slide. They did it though. I would say by about F or G all each of the three classes pretty much had it. Yeah, three classes that day.
After a good afternoon nap I was off with a couple of folks from my school. We went to an all you can eat buffet and then home to play risk, I always try to start in Australia and work my way up Asia allowing my army to build slowly. It worked for most of the game until a bad move cost me and I was wiped out. We called it quits at three, (risk games never actually end) This time I had my key so no problem getting home.
The next morning I woke to the sound of my door opening, a little face peeked it’s way in. I had actually met this girl at Colors two nights ago. We had had a brief but memorable conversation, I was trying to get home dreading the coming morning and made my goodbyes quickly. As it turned out she was friends with one of my roommates girlfriends and had been over visiting and figured she’d mosey into my room for a little peek. I invited her in and we talked for a while. I was supposed to meet a lady at a hotel about buying a computer and I asked her if she wanted to come with, she did. The pool by the hotel was posh, even had a water slide. The water was like nothing I can explain, warm and cool at the same time, salvation from the heat. We swam around for a time, we tried the slide, the sliding part was fun but the butt slamming into a kitty pool at the end on my tail bone sucked. Little swallows circled around the palm trees, waiters carried trays with mixed drinks. We got soup from a street vendor afterwards and she drove me home on the back of her motorcycle. She is a singer in a bar and she is pretty. It is Tuesday and I wonder if she will come by again. Who knows, I have no phone. Hang on, as I was writing this my maid knocked on my door to let me know through hand gestures the phone was for me. She is coming over tomorrow. So more on that later, I guess. We’ll just see.
Today I was told that this coming Saturday is a Buddhist holiday so no class. That means I am going to get my ass out of town pronto this weekend. Can’t make up my mind on mountain hiking or beach. Turns out most of the close beaches aren’t so great, I don’t know. I will let you know next week how it all turns out.

So thanks as always for reading, I love the comments I’ve been getting so thanks for that too. Thanks to Marcus for helping make this website happen, and I will try to write another one next week.

6 Responses to “Rocky Mountain High….. Surabaya”

  1. Nice work with the pictures Will, I knew you could do it.

    I’m glad your maid lectured you.

    Does the little face have a name?

    Also, looks like those kids had you fooled. Table is a verb.

    I’m having a fun time imagining you drunk trying to break into your house, in a foreign country, and I’m curious about the thoughts of the people there, that for the first time are encountering Will Sanders.

    Take lots of pictures of the mountains or beach, hopefully I will have the photos page up soon so you can upload pictures without necessarily inserting them into a blog.

    Rock on!

  2. P.S. Blog believers all time stamps on the site are registered in Indonesian time. Just in case anyone cares enough or is confused by it.

    • Amy Bugg Burke says:

      I love that the time stamps are Indonesia time…then I can keep up with what time it is there!

      Fun and adventure as always Will Sanders. How many classes do you teach each week and what age groups are they?

      Can’t wait to hear about your weekend trip, wherever you may end up.

      I think you should get a motorcycle. =)

  3. Anon says:

    Kiri = left
    Kanan = right

  4. Carson says:

    I ‘freak out with happy’ reading this.

    ahhh, the hard-earned wisdom of Doug Brown – ‘howl with the owl, crow with the rooster’

  5. Doug Brown says:

    I’m Doug Brown, and I approve this message.

Leave a Reply