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Bali and Gilis...

...my final week in Indonesia...and in south-east Asia...at least until next time!

Bali. A word or destination that many people hear these days and grimace about skeptically. After they say “don’t take drugs” of course… Nevertheless, I was looking forward to a week of relaxing and party before coming to grips with the reality that it was almost time for me to return to the real world.

I met Lena in Bali and we stayed in Kuta. It was actually a good spot though as the place was really nice, right near the beach and the cheap shopping and where you go out and what not, but wasn’t right in the middle of the trashy going out district. Which lets face it was trashy, but that can be fun from time to time. And to be fair, it was not much different to places such as Chewang Beach in Koh Samui.

The people in Bali were really just as lovely as everywhere else we’d been in Indonesia, if not more lovely as they are used to drunk Aussie bogans hurling abuse at them unfortunately. We would speak Bahasa and they would say “oh, you’re so polite!” even if it was just “ma kasih” (the shortened version of thankyou). Definitely didn’t have the problem of being accosted and held for photos and autographs in Bali that seems to be the case in the rest of Indonesia, although one Indonesian lady, who seemed quite out of place in Bali (which is predominantly Hindu – literally it’s like going to another country compared to Java) did accost me in front of the memorial and practically hold me down until she got her photo.

I expected to see the memorial, but it haunted me quite a bit to see it, which I didn’t expect. Mainly because there are groups of people posing for photos in front of it, as they drunkenly stumble on their way to a big night out, similar to how the victims of the bombings would have been. As you drive past the places that have been built from both the 2002 and 2005 bombings (only the Sari Club hasn’t been rebuilt – can’t say I’d want to go to it though, or any of the places that they have redone for that matter) the taxi drives point them out and say “Bali bomb 1” or “Bali bomb 2”. Also security in that place is crazy, but it’s good. There are boom gates across every driveway, and security guards check under the cars with mirrors, and check the boot and doors for trip wires before a car can drive in anywhere. Also all bags are scanned or searched before entering anywhere, and guys are patted down when going into clubs (although bribery is still rife, and I heard of one guy who managed to pay a security guard off to avoid a strip search as apparently they suspected him for carrying drugs). Still sometimes I wonder – one security guard inspected one of the girls’ boxes of tampons for an unusually long amount of time!

I guess the threat is always there, but unfortunately for the victims of the bombings I fear it was just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And I guess it’s up to the individual to decide how much the threat of extremists is going to stop them from going places that they want to go and doing things they want to do. But as for all of the stories that make the front page of Australian newspapers claiming that Aussie tourists have been bashed and assaulted by Indonesians, I can guarantee the Indonesians wouldn’t have started it. They want us there! I was in a taxi with Jenee and Talia (the Kiwis) one night, and he asked where we were from. They said “Selandia Baru” and I said “Australie”. As soon as I said that he said “Bagus! Australia means good money for me!”

We barely spent any time at Kuta during the day, unless it was at our infinity pool on the top level of our hotel that looked out over the sea (so how could you blame us?!) There was a mini-ACICIS crew heading to Bali from Jakarta, so we all got to hang out with each other and our respective friends who had come over from home to meet us, and it was a lot of fun. During the day we went to places like Ulu Watu, Padang-Padang beach, Dreamland beach (apparently not so dreamy as Lena got stung by a jellyfish there…although it was stunning), Ubud and it’s surrounding rice paddies, Candi Dasa, where I went snorkeling…I will write that again for effect/in case you though you misread it – where I went snorkeling! Yes that’s right people. There are photos on my Facebook to prove it. And there’s more where that came from.

Everyone knows Bali can be done very cheaply, and this isn’t just if you stay in a dive, don’t eat and do nothing but lie on the beach and get sunburnt. No joke, going out every place has promotions like ‘buy one, get one free’ and ‘free welcome drink’, but my favourite was Sky Garden, where shamefully I admit I went every night whilst staying in Kuta, purely because of the free drinks on offer every night for an hour for guys and an hour-and-a-half for girls. The place we went all the time had three levels – the Asian level, the old men level, and the free drinks level where all the ‘normal’ people (a.k.a. Aussies) hung. If you are smart, you wont buy any drinks at all. Most nights we were smart. But if you are not smart you are in big trip, seeing as most of the drinks you buy are about $6 with 3 shots each in them!

A couple of nights we decided to exude a little bit of class at a posh bar in Seminyak before heading out. One of them was Talia’s birthday, which ironically was also Valentine’s Day. Best night out in Bali for sheezy. We started off at Potato Head, a renowned bar in Seminyak that everybody had told us we ‘had’ to go to. And OMG it’s amazing! For those of you who has seen episode 1, season 2 of Gossip Girl (and yes I am exercising my GG knowledge and writing skills at the same time here) picture the white party! There’s an infinity pool with a swim up bar that is right on the beach and then a big lawn area and a DJ and tables by the pool and then a restaurant. And to top it all off, it was the most amazing sunset I think I have ever seen! Being Talia’s birthday and all, we splurged and ate dinner there, but it was quite funny having this long table and a loud group of Aussies (and Kiwis) when everyone else was sitting around in tables of two, talking quietly by hushed candle light. What made it equally as funny was that it was me, Talia, Jenee, Ella, Kate Raous (all from ACICIS), Ella’s two friends, Ellie and Kaitlin, and then Ben. The only boy at the table, happily sipping away on cocktails with the rest of us, completely comfortable with his sexuality. Then as we were leaving some middle-aged man commented something along the lines of “he must be having a good Valentine’s Day”, so we decided to propose in an appropriately cheesy, ‘The Batchelor’-style Valentine’s Day-special, type photo. I don’t have it, but I wish I did…stay tuned…hilarious…

Being the pov people that we are (may I point out that we weren’t aware of the free-drinks scenario at this stage) we went back to where Kate was staying with her mum and her sister (as they had their own private pool!) to have beers and birthday cake. We got a bit too carried away with the pres, so much so that we missed the free drinks! Meaning that we HAD to resort to the three-shot drink option. I didn’t take any photos that night but I feel like other peoples on Facebook will say what else needs to be said. However, it was a very fun night. I’m jealous, I want my birthday to be on Valentine’s Day!

Towards the end of the week, everyone was either heading home or to the Gili Islands, off Lombok. After much deliberation and a flood of messages telling us how amazing the Gilis were, Lena and I decided to make an impromptu trip there for two nights. And thank God we did, as it is literally paradise! There are several Gili Islands. We went to Gili Trawangan, which is meant to be the ‘party Gili’, which don’t get me wrong, it is, but it’s no Bali or Koh Samui or Koh Phangan (at least not yet), which is awesome. The only form of transport on the island are pushies and these little horse and cart things, so in a way, it really is quite remote. Talia and I rode around the island one day and it took us about an hour, which included stopping to take copious amounts of photos, as it truly was so beautiful.

Unless you’re really into diving, there’s not a whole lot to do on the island besides lying on the beach and going out, which is awesome! Although be proud – I did do more snorkeling, and one day we possibly think we saw a shark (which Talia was very excited about because she loves sharks, me however, no so much…) There are also copious amounts of beachside bars around the island, where you can go and have a Bintang and watch the sunset over the volcanoes of Bali. Another easy way to pass time. Although riding home can be somewhat of an adventure…

I really wish I could just explain how amazing Gilis was, but unfortunately my writing (and photographic) talents cannot do them justice…so you’ll just have to go there! And take me – I want to go back!

And then just like that, four months came to an end. And I’ve never wanted to go home less. Similar to how I was upset about leaving home back in October, because I was scared everything would change while I was gone (even though I should know by now that it never does!) I had tears in my eyes in the cab on the way to Denpasar airport. (I know that you should never trust emotional writers, but this is true!) Sure I’m excited to sleep in my own bed, and see my Mum and my friends and eat rice crackers and cheese, but it would be nice if I could just go home and do that for a week, repack my bag so I have a new batch of five t-shirts to wear for the next few months, and head back out into the world again. But unfortunately tidak funds and the fact that I would like to finish uni in under the six-year time-frame, are preventing me from this at the moment, so I will just have to take comfort in the fact that the reason I’m so sad at the prospect of going home is because I had more fun than I ever thought was possible. So without being too sentimental and soppy, thanks to each and every person I encountered on my journey – I will never forget our crazy antics and the amazing experiences that we shared, and wherever you all live in the world, I aim to re-enact them again with you all, STAT! So until then, look me up if you’re in Melbourne (as as much as I don’t want to go home, it truly is the best city in the world!). And if you ever need a travel buddy (and I haven’t annoyed you to death just yet), I’m there!

“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” – Cahill.

xoxo

Posted by ljmac2 04:00 Archived in Indonesia Tagged beaches melbourne snorkelling taxi sunset bali beach volcanoes memorial security english bars scuba_diving lombok kuta dreamland ubud seminyak gilis gili_trawangan gili_islands bahasa_indonesia bali_bombings pedang-pedang candi_dasa acicis infinity_pool potato_head Comments (0)

My final week in Jakarta...

...and second last week in Indo :(

Now it’s time to cast my mind back to those last fond Jakartan memories. I never actually thought I’d use the terms ‘Jakarta’ and ‘fond memories’ in the one sentence. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a tough city to live in, but with the right crew, you can have a lot of fun.

So work that week was actually quite tough for me (comparatively) seeing as wait for it, I had to source my own stories, and didn’t just get the press conferences or contacts handed to me. This meant that it was a much less productive week for me (I only got two or three stories published) but still a fair effort. I also spent a fair bit of time posting things I though were incredibly witty on the ACICIS page on Facebook (well at least I thought they were) as I was doing my research…oh that’s one thing I’ll definitely miss about ACICIS…how witty we all thought we were posting articles or incredulous blogs or embarrassing photos of each other on Facebook whilst we were meant to be working. And don’t deny it – you all did it! Anyway, I found my story, got the article published (even with a really dodgy photo that I took and got the credit for), and also got an opinion piece and an article, believe it or not about gym, published that week, so it was a good work week.

Outside of work, it was a week of ‘lasts’. Last of our kos meetings (which really just consisted of eating oreos and dancing to Beyonce), last week of eating at our local warung, last week of going to the canteen lady at work and ordering ‘satu’ strawberry juice and ‘satu’ Silver Queen. However, it was also a week of a few out of the ordinary activities. For instance, Royksopp. It was friggin amazing. Actually it was more than just Royksopp, it was like a whole festival thing (where the tickets cost $35!) but Royksopp were headlining, and the only other band I had actually heard of that played were Bag Raiders. Still it was awesome. Much different to festivals at home which are held in parks or showgrounds, large open spaces that are in the city but in places that are supposed to be as resident-friendly as possible, this gig was held in a shopping centre carpark, surrounded by a select group of Jakarta’s many skyscrapers. It was a tiny space compared to what we’re used to at home, but unlike the rest of Jakarta, it was immaculate. They had rolled out fake grass, and amongst other quirky things there was a bar (this is quirky for Jakarta), free photos booths, stickers that people could wear to indicate their relationship status (e.g. “single and ready to mingle”), and wait for it, girls that gave out free cigarettes. And you wonder why Jakarta is not a very healthy city to live in… However, Royksopp, the reason we were there, was amazing. I can’t actually describe it, but no joke, one of the best live gigs ever. Once again we thought the whole crowd was really going off and totally into it, but they were probably all just standing there, bobbing and videoing on their phones whilst us crazy ‘bule’ chanted ‘satu lagi, satu lagi’ (one more song) for a good few minutes. Once again, we all thought we were tres witty.

The next day was a bit of a blur, due to the craziness of the night before, but I would like to point out that on my last day of work (and the day after Royksopp mind you!) I worked until 10pm! So yes. Dedication much? Or maybe nerd much…

Friday was a day of ceremonial proceedings and goodbyes. The Jakarta Post invited us for lunch to talk to us about how our experience had been there and what not, but mainly they just wanted to hear our stories of how we had found Jakarta as ‘bule’. And they laughed at us a lot. I think that’s actually why they gave us a free lunch…

Then we had to go back into Atma Jaya for some ceremony where basically the point of it was to get out certificate and our transcript from language class, and wait for it, duh duh duh, guess who got 100%? Yes that’s right, yours truly. Oh if only Signora Simoncini (my year 12 Italian teacher could see me now). Saya fludent di Bahasa Indonesia (except for the word fluent apparently…) So it seems I can learn other languages, maybe it’s just that two weeks is my limit. And remember how I said how me and the guy sitting next to me in the test (Ben – I guess he’s worthy of getting his name mentioned in here by now…) were talking during the test and our teacher thought it was hilarious? Well guess who got second top of the class…oh yeah.

Then that night was the shindig at the Australian Ambassador’s house. First funny thing about that was that the dress code on the invitation said “lounge suit or Batik”. Firstly, what the hell is a lounge suit?! And secondly, wearing Batik is like wearing a Hawaiian shirt – how is that Ambassador – appropriate?! There were a lot of us there, as there are people who do ACICIS programs in Indonesia for the whole year and all ACICIS students were invited. However, they had to do performances and stuff, so we had the luxury of making the most of the free alcohol. This was a very exciting prospect for us. However too exciting for some, as wine was served (Shaw and Smith to be exact) and not having drunk wine for six weeks, we got a bit excited. We literally drank him out of wine. They had to go down to the cellar to get more, and then they had to go down again, only to find out that it was all gone. Don’t think some of the official ACICIS people were too pleased. However the Ambassador himself seemed like a true Aussie bloke who loved a good beer (or wine), so at least he didn’t seem to mind. Only problem was that the Ambassador’s house was meant to be our pre-drinking location for our final night out, and some people didn’t even make it out. Some did but probably shouldn’t have. So props to those of you who lasted until 6.30am – bagus effort!

Being the intelligent person that I am, I foresaw this potential problem, and so had not booked my flight to Bali until the Sunday, meaning that I had all of Sunday to recover and pack up my room. To be honest, this had to be done in half hour shifts, but I got it done. Then that night, those of us left caught up for a ‘quiet one’ and the Beer Garden in Kemang. It was a quiet one comparatively to the night before, but still, I didn’t get home until 3.30am! I felt quite sad that night actually. I was the only one left at my kos and there was such a small group of us out. Unfortunately due to many of our antics the night before, not many people got to say proper goodbyes. But luckily, compared to with my time in Siem Reap, most people on ACICIS live in Australia, and a large proportion of this is Melbourne. So I shouldn’t complain.

There are a lot of things I won’t miss about Jakarta. The traffic. The taxi drivers who drive past with their light on and don’t stop. The taxi drivers who don’t know where they’re going. They taxi drivers who say they know where they’re going but don’t know where they’re going. Well to be fair, most of my issues with Jakarta were with the traffic and the further problems that that causes. (Oh and the prayers – did I say that at our local mosque in the last week during the prayers they said “Australia New Zealand” in English? They must have been talking about us, counting down the days until our departure…) But there are many things I will miss. Warung food. Ojek rides. Hearing “hello Mister” as I leave my kos every day. Crazy gigs like Foster and Royksopp that I would probably never be able to afford to go to at home. And of course all of the amazing people I met and friends I’ve made. Honestly after my time in Siem Reap I didn’t think it was possible to have that much fun again, and I won’t deny that it was a polar-opposite type of different experience, but I had an absolute ball. To everyone I met whilst in Jakarta, thanks, it’s been a pleasure. (And of course the obligatory “sorry for whatever it was I did last night/thanks for taking me home”). And I sincerely hope that we all do keep in touch via the miracle of Facebook, which we all managed to spend so much time on whilst earning us those credit points, and when we visit each other’s cities. So until next time teman-teman saya…terima kasih banyak. xxxx

Posted by ljmac2 03:46 Archived in Indonesia Tagged buildings people parties planes mosque taxi jakarta indonesia siem_reap festival wine bars kos prayers beer_garden batik atma_jaya jakarta_post australian_ambassador ambassador's_house lounge_suit kemang ojek royksopp foster_the_people bag_riders Comments (0)

A guide to making the most of prayer time...

...it's pretty indie...

semi-overcast 27 °C

So have totally worked out how to combat 4.30am prayer time – don’t come home until after they start…then you’re already awake! Ok so I feel the stage that I reached in Siem Reap when I can start using names in my blog… Talia, one of the NZ girls on this trip (apparently New Zealanders flock to me over here!) who stays at my kos and also works at the Post, is a very light sleeper and constantly woken up by the prayers at 4.30 every morning. No joke, she can tell whether it’s Jim or Bob rostered on for the 4.30 shift each day by the tone of their warbling. Sometimes they even work in a bit of a harmony/competition with their neighbouring mosque to see who can be the loudest. Anyway, we got home at around said prayer time Saturday morning and were banging on the gate of our kos saying “malam, malam!” (“good evening” – It sounds weird in English, but that is the appropriate evening greeting), before we realized that possibly we world get a better response if we said “pagi, pagi!” (good morning), and then the prayers started up and Talia yells “haha I beat you, I’m already awake!” Hilarious.

As a side note, we read an article when we first here about an American man here in Ramadan last year, when the prayers are super loud, who unplugged one of the mosques loud speakers and got jailed for five months. Talia was very glad she read that early on…

Anyway, this weekend is a long weekend in Jakarta because of Chinese New Year, which I find very interesting that it’s a public holiday here and not at home, when we are supposed to be more accepting of other cultures and religions and what not. However similar to at home, being a long weekend it is quite expensive to go away, and also being a ‘journalist’, you do not have regular working hours, so a bunch of us spent the weekend hanging in Jaks.

On Saturday I went to the Monas, which is the national monument and also Jakarta’s main (and pretty much only) tourist attraction. However, unfortunately for Jakarta, it is nicknamed by the locals “Suharto’s last erection”. Awesome. Pretty much it’s just a big statue/tower thing in the middle of this park which is quite nice (the park I mean). You can go up the tower and view the metropolis that is Jakarta, but somehow I think that Jakarta is not really worth the three-hour wait in the queue. However, I think the Monas might be known as a ‘tourist attraction’ as locals just go there to hang out and get photos taken with us whiteys. No joke, we have so many photos taken of us…what do they do with them, put them on Facebook? Even just wandering down the street our kos is on, all the locals say “hello” as they are following us with their camera phones. I mean seriously? We’ve been here for three weeks now, surely they’re over it! Anyway, at the Monas people just yell out at you “Mister, Mister” (everyone is ‘Mister’ here apparently) and ask to take your photos. Ella who I was with (she’s from Tassie, but it’s ok, she’s still pretty cool…) would say to them “No…Mrs…”, and they would look back at her oddly and say “No…Mister…photo?” Haha.

So Saturday night we went to I guess what you would call a club, Red Square, and it was first time we’d actually been clubbing in Jakarta. By Jakartan standards I’d say it was quite small and relatively tame, but it was the closest I’ve seen anywhere I’ve been so far to Pub Street…there was like this runway thing to dance on, and they played the classics such as “We No Speak Americano” and like all of Rihanna’s back catalogue. Although no buckets…poor form.

One minor glitch from Saturday night was that my camera got stolen. No biggie really though, as it turns out getting a police report in Jakarta is even easier than in Siem Reap! Not that it was hard in Siem Reap, but it shocked me at how easy it was here! Maybe just because I could only speak “sedikit sedikit” Bahasa Indonesia (very little!) so they couldn’t be bothered to question me about it. Although apparently my religion is vital fact required when filing a police report. I said Christian. Apparently ‘Atheist’ (or ever ‘Jew’) doesn’t go down that well here…not that I really look like a Jew…just thought that was an interesting fact.

It was nice not having to rush around and sightsee on the weekend as it meant we could have a lazy Sunday. No Gossip Girl, but we did manage to find real Western brunch. Unbelievable. It turns out that Jakarta is just a city of malls. Like at first you may think most of them are trashy ones with a few high-end one’s in between, but no, there are as many posh ones as there are un-posh. And obviously I belong in (and can afford – not) the posh ones! But the one we went to yesterday, Pacific Place, had a massive dragon for Chinese New Year that stretched from the top to the bottom floor (maybe 6 or 7 floors?), and then the level we were on had a lake with boats on it and a lighthouse…crazy! The place we had dinner was so cute too – like kitsch, Asian cute – but amazing! It was called ‘Nanny’s’ and made into what I assume was meant to be your Grandma’s home. So we ate in a shower, but there were sinks and what not scattered all around…very bizarre.

Last night we went to a gig at the Jaya Pub, which according to someone on Google is the “worst place in Jakarta” but actually it was so cool. Plus, calling it the worst place in Jakarta made me want to go there more! All these Indonesian bands played, but each one of them was a different genre…you know the usual…Indonesian Irish folk rock, Indonesian power ballads…and a band that were basically like the Indonesian version of The Presets, except cooler if that’s even possible (The Presets are pretty cool…) as they wore sunnies that lit up and made noise. No expenses spared.

So yes, that’s been the weekend…but I guess I should actually mention something as to the real reason why I’m here. I’m struggling a bit to remember I’m here for work experience and learning – so much fun to be had! But actually I am really lucky with my placement. I’m loving it at the sports desk and despite the fact that the team there is so small – two reporters and one editor – they look after me really well and give me cool stuff to work on.

On Tuesday, my first real day of work, I went to a amateur golf tournament which is run by six-time major winner Nick Faldo’s charity. It’s a tournament series run all throughout Asia and Europe with the aim of making it easier for up-and-coming golfers to make it onto the tour. So I got to interview of the CEO of Nick Faldo’s organization, and the head of the committee for the Indonesian event, who is this guy called Rudy Hartono, and apparently is an Indonesian sporting legend! He used to play badminton and won the All-England Championships (equivalent to World Championships back then apparently) and won it seven times, six consecutively. My editor who went with me that day didn’t know he was going to be there so he was so stoked! We had photos taken with him and everything.

Then on Wednesday I went to a press conference with another one of the other reporters, Niken, which was about the National Games, pretty much the Indonesian version of the Olympics. It’s held every four years and like Aussie kids grow up dreaming of winning the Olympics, Indonesian kids grow up dreaming of winning PON (the National Games). However, as with everything in Indonesia, it was running super late, so we all just sat in the foyer outside the lift. People were very amused that I was there, and were taking photos of me and interviewing me…I think I was also on Indonesian TV that night saying that I though Barca was going to beat Real Madrid 1-0 – they care a lot about the Spanish soccer here since they won the world cup apparently. That particular press conference was all in Bahasa so I only picked up a few words such as ‘teman’ (friend) and ‘teman-teman’ (friends)…but it was an interesting experience.

Oh and there was a letter from FIFA being passed around that day, to the Indonesian Football Association, as they are in all sorts of strife. Everyone was taking photos of it so they could take it home and make it into a story, which was pretty cool.

On Thursday night I went to a press conference about this Indonesian group that are climbing the Seven Summits, which I found fascinating seeing really, you don’t associate the words ‘Indonesian’ and ‘mountaineering’. But they were a full on professional outfit, with only one peak remaining – Everest. The press conference was all in Bahasa again, but I got to interview the chief climber afterwards, who spoke very good broken English. I got a good feature out of it though – it even made the caption for the sport section under the title on Saturday’s paper.

http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2012/01/21/mountain-climbing-next-stop-everest.html

Then on Friday I had the true journalistic experience of working from home – lucky I have a Mac now so I can compete the SATC cliché right?! I wrote up my mountaineering article in the morning, went for an interview with a guy at lunchtime, and then went back home to write up the article. The guy I spoke to was really cool. Greg Wilson was an elite Australian weightlifter, won bronze and silver medals at Worlds’ back in the 80s, then became a sporting academic, and now in between coaching Indonesian athletes in strength and conditioning, works with the Indonesian Olympic Committee. So we were talking all about the differences between sport in developing versus developed countries, using Indonesia and Australia as the case studies, and about why Indonesian athletes have little to no motivation to compete well on an international scale. Basically they get paid millions of rupiah when they win at a national or regional level, and at the Olympics they are not going to win anything, hence get no money, so why would they try harder? I know – unbelievable. Also, apparently they are incredibly good at blue ribbon events such as dragon-boat racing and wall running – both which are unfortunately yet to fit into the Olympic schedule.

So this Greg Wilson guy that I interviewed invited me to another press conference tomorrow about women in sport and so hopefully I will get an opportunity to get some more sources for my big feature that will compare sport in developing versus developed countries. Anyway, I better go – I’ve got an hour and ten minutes of interview material to transcribe, which I swear takes about three times the length of the actual interview. And also I am lagging a bit after the long weekend…it’s been a good month since my Siem Reap days now, I’m out of practice ☺

Posted by ljmac2 06:58 Archived in Indonesia Tagged people parties night jakarta indonesia siem_reap sport english bars islam pub_street jakarta_post nick_faldo rudy_hartono seven_summits Comments (0)

Catch Cambodia...

...until next time "you say goodbye, and I say hello"

semi-overcast 26 °C

First of all, apologies on my slackness on writing my blog the past week. I have had a few queries about when my next blog entry is going to be, but with last week being my last week at school, in Siem Reap and even in Cambodia, it was very busy with ‘lasts’. Literally we had a schedule for where we were going to eat every night so we had time to say goodbye to everyone…or more to the point say ‘catch’ until next year - hopefully ☺

Secondly, it is with extremely mixed feelings that I tell you I am writing the first blog entry of this trip not from Cambodia. Currently I am in my comparatively luxurious and cleanly hotel room in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, formally known as Saigon. It’s funny because when I left home I was so excited about this part of my trip having never been to Vietnam before, but now having to leave school and all the amazing friends I have made, not to mention just the awesome lifestyle that there is in Siem Reap, it’s devastating. I feel bad for Mum (she is here now as well in case you missed that memo) – I think she feels a bit like bad cop, as if she’s coming and dragging me away from it all. But I guess the best thing about feeling like this about leaving everything behind is that I have had more fun over the past two months than I ever thought was possible, particularly with where I was at when I left home, so that’s pretty awesome ☺ And besides, it’s just catch until next time right?!

Anyway, let me think, what has been happening since last time I wrote my blog…there’s been so much I don’t even know where to start or where to end so things are going to be a bit all over the place…

Well last weekend Courtnay and I went to Battambang for the weekend as there was a music festival called the Friendship Festival on there, which is half Khmer acts and half Western DJs, one of whom was a guy we know from when we went to Sihanoukville. It was a pretty interesting weekend to say the least! It started off with Courtnay walking into our room at home from being out, just as the 6am alarm was going off to remind us that for some reason we booked the 7am bus! That turned out to be a joyous ride filled with ice-cold air conditioning and blaring Khmer karaoke music that I could still hear when I had my iPod up full blast. Seriously, the Khmer people were not singing along and I definitely didn’t know the words – was it completely necessary?!

So I went to Battambang the last time I was here and did the whole boat trip and everything so I knew what to expect, but Battambang is definitely no Siem Reap. We literally could not find a bucket in sight all weekend, not even at the festival! It’s definitely not your party town kind of place, it’s like walking in a ghost town at night, there isn’t even that many restaurants to choose from and they all close at 10 or 11! However, the ‘sightseeing’ as you would call it around Battambang is really cool. There’s the Bamboo Train, which I’m still not entirely sure if it is called that because it is made from bamboo or because they used to use it to transport bamboo, but anyway it’s on this single railway line that you ride along through the rice fields, and then when you meet a train coming in the opposite direction, one of the trains gets dismantled so the other can continue on it’s way. Anyway, they take you up to the first ‘stop’, which is where there’s an old lady selling drinks and a bunch of kids very eager to show you around the brick making factory, for want of a better word, which was actually really cool.

After the Bamboo Train we went to a Cambodian winery, which compared to what we know as a winery, was hilarious, seeing there are four rows of grapes in someone’s backyard. There was actually only one kind of wine to taste though, but there was a horrifically strong brandy. Neither of us could drink ours so we gave it to the tuk tuk driver and even he struggled! He did finish it though – not one to turn down a free drink I suspect! Luckily for him we had to cut through this back road to get to our next destination, which was actually one of the coolest parts of the day. In Battambang especially, they are not shy on commenting on how much they love your white skin, and along this road I don’t think they’ve seen some barangs for a while, as the kids were running out of their houses and people were taking a break from their work at the rice fields just to get a look of us!

Our next destination was the Killing Cave, which as it’s name suggests, was used by the Khmer Rouge for many of the atrocities that occurred during that time. Similar to the Khmer Rouge stuff you see in Phnom Penh, there are monuments filled with the victims’ skulls and bones and whatever else they have found at the sight. Again, unfortunately I am not sure whether this came about before or after the war, but it is also a holy site up there so there is lots of blessings and Buddahs going on up there as well.

Anyway as for the festival, the main reason why we went to Battambang, it was pretty funny. The Khmer part in particular was packed. There was this guy there who must have been Cambodia’s answer to Michael Buble, as whenever his name was mentioned the crowd just went nuts. It was a pity they didn’t speak a bit more English though, as the MCs kept pointing to the moon and stuff all night and we were just like “why are they so obsessed with this moon?” But it turns out it was because there was a lunar eclipse that night we found out the next day – a tad awkward that we didn’t spot that one…

So once we got back to Siem Reap we were thrilled to hear that on the Saturday night we were away, pretty much none of our friends were out – that’s right, we are the high season! However, it did leave some pretty big expectations for our last week, which means that between the emotions of leaving school and everyone in Siem Reap, and going out, and packing and doing whatever jobs you have to do when you’re leaving somewhere after being there for two months, right now my eyes are practically hanging out of my head I am so tired! Totally worth it though, every single minute of it ☺

So my last week at school was thrown out of whack a little bit, as a group of ten new volunteers rocked up on Tuesday morning. They are on a 10-day tour kind of thing of Siem Reap, which includes going to school at ABCs and Rice because Jenny and Gary who organized the trip, have volunteered at ABCs before. Because it went from there being one volunteer at school (me!) to 10, we had a different schedule all week where each of the new volunteers ran different activities. It culminated on Friday, which was kind of cool seeing it was my last day, when they brought all this fruit to school as well as bottled water and even fairy bread (the kids had never had fairy bread before, it was so funny to watch them eat it and not be able to deal with the sprinkles!). Courtnay came into school as well on Friday to surprise her kids, which was so cool, and also good for me because I had someone to help me initiate our regular Friday dance party!

It was a fantastic, yet very hard day. I got bombarded with the usual mass of cards that all the classes make for volunteers when they leave, and some of the kids even bought me presents, which I feel so bad about, but it’s also so special. One of the teachers had asked me the day before what my favourite number was, and I said seven, so she gave me a jar of these tiny little stars they fold out of paper here and call ‘lucky stars’, and she said she made 70 for me because I said seven was my lucky number – so cute! At the end of the day for each class they all lined up and we sang ‘Hello, Goodbye’ by the Beatles, basically ABCs theme song, and they were also incredibly keen to sing three little monkeys, which I taught my class in music about two weeks ago and they just can’t get enough of it! Literally we sing it about 15 times a day – very fitting though seeing I was in the monkey class!

Luckily having the youngest class, only a couple of the kids understood what was going on and cried, which made it easier for me – at least I could hold on until they left! One of my kids kept saying “goodbye Teacher, see you on Monday!” (the really cool one I think I mentioned once before, who likes to play Uno and was hit on her foot by her mum) so I hope she doesn’t get too much of a shock next week. Also there’s a kid we’ve had to take to the doctor everyday, as she had to have an operation last week but she still needed to get her wound cleaned everyday, and when we went on Friday they said she didn’t have to go back anymore, that it could be cleaned at school as it was much better, which made me feel very happy that I know she will be looked after ok ☺ Everyday when we ride home from school we go the same was as a few of the older kids and they like to ride with us, but on Friday we had an entourage, as half the kids wanted to ride up to the main road to us. One of the girls kept saying “ride slow Teacher, you leave at the end of the road and I am sad.”

Anyway, I have so many more stories about school and Pub Street and just life and how great it has been that I want to write about, but one blog can only be so long before losing one’s interest. Besides, I need to save up some cool stories for when I come home, otherwise I’ll just be boring! But from the bottom of my heart I just want to thank everyone I met during my time in Cambodia for making it pretty much the best two months of my life. Whether you were mentioned in the blog or not, you know who you are, and my time there wouldn’t have been the same without you. I know I’ll be back, as I can’t possibly say goodbye to ABCs and the kids and the town forever, so I hope that we will all meet again one day and continue the party, whether at home, back in the Reap, or somewhere else out there in the world. And to everyone who’s reading this and doesn’t understand what I’m talking about, sorry for the after school special, but I hope that I at least had a story or two to entertain you…if not look me up when I get home, there are plenty more where that came from ;)

Posted by ljmac2 06:52 Archived in Cambodia Tagged children parties bus cambodia phnom_penh siem_reap teacher bars winery sihanoukville volunteers pub_street battambang khmer_rouge bamboo_train killing_cave Comments (0)

Just another average week in The Reap...

...school and Pub Street

sunny 27 °C

So I was very excited about the prospect of writing this week’s blog and starting off with something like “well finally I have completed a full week of school”. Alas, on Thursday afternoon I hit a wall and was sick, so had to miss the last two periods of school…so I will aim for next week!

It’s weird, this week I have been in Siem Reap the whole time and not done anything out of the usual, which is going to school followed by going to Pub Street, but I honestly don’t know where the time’s gone! Last Sunday night we decided to go out for a quiet last dinner with Fran seeing she was leaving Siem Reap the next day. It did start off quiet to be fair, due to a rather late night the night before, but then we decided to go to Ankgor What? Bar for “one last bucket”. Liam, the bartender there who used to work with Fran said seeing it was our “last bucket” he’s make it “extra strong for us”. Amelia, Courtnay and I all tried it, and were like “yeah, that’s pretty strong” but were still happy to go along with it, until Fran tried it and was like “guys, there’s only vodka in that, no red bull!” We would have been more than happy to just drink it straight apparently! Oh and it actually turned out to be our second last bucket, but who’s counting anyway…

Monday was school, the first day in the Monkey Class without Teacher Fran as well! Then Monday night was Julie’s birthday, who is one of the older volunteers staying here, so we all went out for dinner at Soria Moria’s, a hotel down the road from us, where we had to splurge as prices were $2 for a cocktail and $4 for a main meal! We were so close to heading into Pub Street after that as well, but we decided to be civilized and not…which is funny as it turns out it was the only night we haven’t been in there all week!

Tuesday, was school again, then Pub Street.

Wednesday was school and then Pub Street. However, in between that was $1 tapas for dinner at Soria Moria, our Wednesday night ritual. At this boutique hotel down the road from us every Wednesday night they have trainee wait and kitchen staff, so they have a tapas menu where everything, including all cocktails is $1 – it’s unbelievable! We basically have a standing booking there. It’s also really cool, as because last time I was here working at Anjali House I taught the oldest class, some of those kids work there on $1 night, so I still get to see them. It’s funny, because the first time I went there they recognized my face but couldn’t remember my name, so they just exclaimed “Teacher!”

I can’t remember why now, but school was awesome on Wednesday, the night after we’d gone out, so we had the epiphany that if we can feel that good at school after going out, why not go out every night right?!

Thursday was school, where admittedly I felt pretty sick all day, but did manage to go the whole time except for the last two hours. Besides from breakfast really, it is basically cheaper to eat out here than to cook for yourself at home, so we headed to this place called Under Construction close to where we live for dinner. However we met a couple of English guys we know down there, one of them who is the music teacher at our school, so all out good intentions headed out the door, and once again we were on Pub Street. Luckily I actually did feel well enough for school the next day…

Friday, we have discovered, is pretty much always going to be dance party day at school. So it looks like that’s our exercise day, when we go to school and dance for six hours straight! The first lesson usually starts off with good intentions, where we review what we have learnt during the week, but then I think it’s because Courtnay’s class has music in the afternoon, and her Khmer teacher Chansip is obsessed with Western music (he is always downloading songs onto his phone and getting her to translate them…which is quite awkward when it’s like an Akon song and every second lyric is a swear word). So he just hooks up his phone to this speaker, and eventually the whole school migrates towards her classroom and has a rave. We were showing some of the other volunteers a video of it the other day, and they were like “wow, it actually is a day rave at your school”…hilarious. There are of course the staple songs, being The Lazy Song, Party Rock Anthem, On The Floor (by Jennifer Lopez) and the Khmer song I think I was talking about last week (which I have discovered is called Yoyo Yaya – so now I know most of the lyrics – yay!) but then sometimes Chansip branches out and puts on other songs that are on his phone. I say to him “Chansip, there are some very bad words in these songs”, and his reply was “Yes, but they don’t know English so that’s ok”. So, um, what are we doing there?!

During music classes on Thursday and Friday, Teacher Jack, this English guy who’s been volunteering in Siem Reap for about a year, (and who coincidently we saw out on Thursday night) comes in and plays the guitar with the kids, teaches some of the older kids how to actually play the guitar, and sings very PG songs compared to what is played at the weekly dance party, such as Hello, Goodbye by The Beatles (which is pretty much the ABCs and Rice anthem now…I can’t say hello to anyone now without wanting to sing “hello, hello!”), Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog, and Let’s Twist Again. However, Friday was his last day which is awesome because whenever someone leaves it means we get to spend an hour making them goodbye cards, which consists of the Khmer teachers writing Cambodian-English phrases on the board and the kids copying them down and drawing pictures. They write stuff like ‘good luck for you’ and ‘I love you teacher’, and it’s the only time I don’t have the heart to correct the poor English. Anyway, for some reason Jack was late on Friday (he swore it had nothing to do with being out the night before!) so to improvise before he got there, Headmaster Purim said we should start off the dance party! Then when Jack got there, all the kids literally ran out of the classroom and swarmed to him with their card and crowns and necklaces and whatever else it was they had made for him, it was so cute. They by the time he actually got to sitting down and playing the guitar, he was like “ok, what songs do we want to sing?” and one of the little boys from my class yelled out “on the floor, Jennifer Lopez!”

Friday night was the ABCs and Rice quiz night, which with all of the NGOs in town are a dime a dozen and apparently quite a competitive market. ABCs hold their quiz at the restaurant Chilli’s, which is part owned by Matt, Tammy’s partner and I guess he’s like the 2IC of the school. We were the only group of younger people there, and out of the five teams, we finished a respectable 5th…is it a worry that we’re the one’s who are supposedly teaching the kids English? I hope Tammy doesn’t fire us! However, there was a raffle as well and of all things I won a pottery class for two people, so at some stage Courtnay and I are going to go and get our pot on!

Then, surprise surprise, after that we went to Pub Street, and for some reason we all went our different ways that night, and it is quite hard to locate people once you lose them see both Courtnay and I don’t have phones (Courtnay got hers ‘stolen’ Sihanoukville – although, I would say she lost it…) However, we are a well oiled machine, and as arranged everyone rendezvoused the next day at 1200 hours at what we call ‘all day happy hour, non-food poisoning place’. There are these little restaurants in the Old Market around the corner from Pub Street, that we don’t know the name of and who claim to have happy hour from 8am until 10pm…why don’t they just say it as it is and call it all day happy hour?! They are so good and cheap, plus they have the best fruit shakes in all of Siem Reap and they are only 50 cents! But when Amelia and Courtnay were sick they reckon they got it from one of those places, so now we just stick to the non-food poisoning place. We go there everyday for lunch, I’d say we have fruit shakes there on average twice and day, and I reckon we also spent a good four hours there yesterday!

This other girl from Melbourne (Mairead – pronounced like parade with an M as she says) got to Globalteer the day we left for Sihanoukville last week. She’s 18 like Amelia but volunteering at another school here (and goes to Monash Caulfield of all places), and apparently the whole week we were away, all of the other older volunteers at the house were like “watch out for those three girls, they’re crazy you know, they go out all the time, they never sleep…blah blah blah”…to which she pretty much replied AWESOME! So it’s a bit weird, but Amelia, Courtnay and I like to set each other random challenges, so we set Mairead an ‘initiation challenge’ at all day happy hour, non-food poisoning yesterday, which was to ask for the bill without making any sound and not moving anything but your face. Seriously it was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. She’d always be like “I’ve got it, I’ve got it” and they’d come over and bring it to the table next to us or behind us, only to have a very loud reaction from us which made everyone else there think we were nuts. Some people asked us what we were doing, but apparently they didn’t find it as funny as we did. Anyway, I’m happy to report that in the end she did get it: challenge successful! Seriously, you should try it some time…

Then last night was Amelia and Ian’s, this other older volunteer from our house’s goodbye dinner, seeing it’s both of their last weekends in Siem Reap. We branched out and went to this place called Red Piano, which I think Angelina Jolie had something to do with when she was here in 2000 filming Tomb Raider. They have a Tomb Raider cocktail, naturally Ms Jolie’s favourite, and for every 10th one they sell they ring this huge bell and you get one for free! Amelia wanted her last weekend out to be a glitter theme, but it turns out that Siem Reap is not huge on glitter, so we changed it too buying party Ray Bans, and you had to buy the same colour Ray Bans as the clothes you were wearing out that night. We also bought water spray bottles just for fun, and so then when we walked along Pub Street, every person that says “tuk tuk lady” or “fish massage lad” we just squirted with the water bottle…best was to not get hassled and they all thought it was hilarious! However, some of the Westerners don’t have quite the same sense of humour as the Khmers…this one huge girl in Ankgor What? Bar last night ripped my water bottle off me, emptied it over Amelia’s head and tackled me against the wall…seriously she needs to lighten up…literally and figuratively!

So yes…that was my week pretty much! Amelia’s boyfriend from home, Henry, got here on Friday night so tomorrow is her last day at school and then she’s leaving Siem Reap on Wednesday ☹ Courtnay and I have decided to go and meet her somewhere next weekend though so it won’t be as bad saying goodbye on Wednesday. And the one good thing is that it means two hours of card making tomorrow! We are going to get the kids to write on her cards “Teacher Amelia is crazy!”

Posted by ljmac2 04:18 Archived in Cambodia Tagged people children night cambodia siem_reap teacher school bars angelina_jolie pub_street old_market red_piano tomb_raider Comments (0)

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