Tuesday, December 31, 2013

For Me, 2013 Was The Year Of Trying New Things

There are so many things happening this year, I don't know where to start. One thing for sure, the experience I had in 2012 has given me the courage to take the leap of faith this year. I have done in 2013 a lot of things that I thought I would never do. Work hard, play harder and pray hardest :).

The following are my highlights of this year:
-- I took the trip to three ASEAN countries: Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia. Being a Southeast Asian, the trip has provided me with new perspectives on neighboring countries. I wish to visit the other ASEAN countries in the following years, preferably those that have the visa-free/VOA policy (Dear Myanmar, I'm looking at you).
-- The trip has taught me that I could survive for 11 days with a backpack weighed less than 9 kg and that I could sleep on the train, bus, night ferry and spooky hostels if I wanted to. 
-- During the said trip, I managed to experience what Songkran Festival is like (I love it!) and visited the Angkor Wat (it is a must-visit!)
-- I took the weekend trip to Pahawang islands in Lampung with a backpacker community. It's nice to know that there are many beautiful places within several hours trip from Jakarta and it's fun to hang out with new circle of friends.
-- Three cousins were married this year! Oh my, how fast does time fly? It felt just yesterday I played around with them and now they're all grown up:)
-- I did a series of old-time eatery in Jakarta. It's always fun to learn more about the city I work in.
-- I submitted my resignation letter to the newspapers company that had been my work (and life) for the past 6.5 years. After almost a decade in journalism, I decided to switch career by accepting a job at a government institution that works on climate change funding. It's a whole new world and I'm learning new things everyday.
-- With the new workplace having 9-to-5 work schedule, I am now one of the millions commuters taking the train. The train is packed but it's congestion-free.
-- My new office appointed me to be a person in charge for the visit to Central Kalimantan. Isn't it funny that I posted this in March and then I went to Borneo in September? Also, I just realized that I posted South Korea as one of my travel destination dreams in March 2010 and then got the fellowship to South Korea in August 2010! I wonder what would happen with this post, I mean, a Joe Taslim-look-alike might come into my life, ahem, a girl can always dream :P.
-- Another milestone this year was the decision to learn about the technology and finance stuffs. I bought an iPod touch (which became one of the essential items during the ASEAN trip) and then succumbed to the charms of a smartphone due to my new job. I'm still learning how to use it.
-- The office was moved to the 20th floor, the highest floor in the building, and I got a cubicle right next to the window. It's a real treat for a woman who loves staring at faraway places from great heights.
-- I finally saw the Komodo dragons in their natural habitat with my cousin and friends and then did a Trans Flores trip. I've been to Flores three years ago so it was like a home-bound road trip:)
-- I had two trips to close this year: the office trip to Cirebon and then two-day motor touring to Gunung Kidul, Yogyakarta.

How was 2013 for you?
Happy New Year!

Monday, December 30, 2013

This Photo Seems Familiar To Me

Fun for all: Two holiday revelers (left) jump into the water at Sri Gethuk Waterfall in Bleberan tourist village, Gunung Kidul , Yogyakarta, on Sunday. The area is picturesque, covered with green lush, and is home to the Oyo River and small hills, attracting hundreds of tourists every day. (JP/P.J. Leo), link

Oh look, a friend from this newspaper was also taking a holiday to the same waterfall I went to two weeks ago:). Man, I was so glad there ain't no snake in that brown river.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Road Trippin' To Gunung Kidul, Yogyakarta

When I told my uni friend Aneen that I was going to Cirebon, she asked if I could stop by Yogyakarta or Solo. She also suggested that we took a road trip to the beaches along Gunung Kidul shores in Yogyakarta. So I asked my colleagues if I could take a few days off after the Cirebon trip. They said it's doable, and so I submitted my leave form.

Almost everyone who knew I was taking another leave was shocked. Didn't you just took leave a month ago? You already took 5 days of leave in November, you still have days of leave? But you have just worked in the new office, they allow you to take leave? The answers are yes, yes and yes, my friends:).

Gunung Kidul is a regency in the southeast part of Yogyakarta Special Region. Literally means Southern Mountains, Gunung Kidul is part of karst region. The regency has been subject to extensive drought and famine as water shortages and poverty remain serious problems there. 

However, when we visited the region in the fourth week of December, it was wet with rain, green with healthy plants and the air felt so pure. The rainy season may be the right time but also the most dangerous time to visit the region, because not all roads are well-constructed. Most roads leading to the beaches are not paved yet, and the combination of karst rocks and mud are not safe for first time drivers. Definitely not recommended for drivers with little to none driving experience. Sometimes during our trip, we faced such a difficult road that we questioned our sanity on doing the road trip in the rainy season.

We started our road trip from Sri Gethuk waterfall and body rafting along Oyo river. Then, we ventured the beaches: Baron, Kukup, Krakal, Drini, Sepanjang, Indrayanti, Pok Tunggal, Siung, Jogan and Sadeng. Off all beaches, I think Siung tops the list for its scenery and secludedness.

We spent one night in Baron and another night in Siung. At night, we could hear waves crushing to the shore amidst the sound of heavy rain. Unless you're going to spend the night in Indrayanti, brace your heart to stay in a humble abode. After all, you are lucky to have a place to stay.

Road tripping in Gunung Kidul is like having an intimate conversation between yourselves and the nature. The region is not densely populated so you don't see too many people as in the city. It's just you and the majestic landscape that envelopes the region. It really is hard to imagine what it looks like during the drought season. 

I didn't spend a lot of time chatting with Gunung Kidul people, but  I could tell that while they are poor, they are hardworking and proud. During our trip, almost all Gunung Kidul people were out in the paddy field or walked with bulky load on their backs. You don't see people hanging out on the road, they are all out in the field. After all, it's the rainy season, the perfect time to plant the seedlings.

Aneen and I would stop from time to time to ask directions to the people. Aneen speaks Jawa kromo (the polite version of Javanese language) and they would reply enthusiastically. It seems that in places where life is hard, the people are willing to go the extra miles to ensure that you will be alright on the road. Prices are mostly low. We got a place to spend a night that required us to pay Rp 40,000 (around US$ 3.28 with the current currency rate) and bought two lobsters for Rp 170,000.

We often left the motorcycle (and our backpacks) on the empty roadside and ventured to the beach. And the motorcycle and backpacks would still be there when we returned.

Most of the times we faced rain, heavy rain. We couldn't stop and wait for the rain to subside because the rain could last the whole day. All we got to do was to put our rainy season gears and got back on the motorcycle. Although I had worn the helmet, the rain would make a way to reach my chin. So I looked up to the sky and licked the rain:).

It was a trip that was a feast to the eye and a food for the thoughts.

A view of Gunung Kidul regency, Yogyakarta

 Me and the tree on Rancang Kencana cave

Sri Gethuk waterfall

You jump, I jump. Cowabunga!

Panorama of Pok Tunggal Beach

Panorama of Jogan Beach

 Siung beach

These guys remind me of Larry in Spongebob Squarepants

The best treat on a rainy day: a cup of tea served with lump sugar

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Short Sojourn To Cirebon

Hello lovelies, how are you? Sorry for the one-month blogging hiatus, I had to finish works before the end of the year. Boss CO, my direct boss, had decided to resign and Boss NPM, the higher supervisor, thought I could manage without any supervision. Eep! Somehow I always give people a false idea that I'm such a tough woman ::sigh::. 

Anyway, last week, my office was holding a business meeting in Cirebon, West Java. When I first heard about the trip, I was unimpressed. I mean I passed this city whenever I was going to or leaving Semarang for Jakarta during my university days. At that time (late 1990s and early 2000s), Cirebon train station (as well as all train stations, actually) had so many food hawkers and vendors, they were allowed to enter the economy and business class trains and they were very persistent in offering their goods. Persistent as in they would shout at you to catch your attention. Very loudly.

All trains going to Central and East Java stop in Cirebon before they are making a turn to either the northern railway (Semarang) or southern railway (Yogyakarta, Solo or Malang). Now, Jakarta-Cirebon is a three-hour trip, and if you're like me who loves taking an evening train (because the economy and business class trains felt cooler at night than on midday) from Jakarta (usually depart at 8 or 9 p.m.), you'll be most likely to arrive in Cirebon at 11 p.m. or 12 a.m.

It was not an exciting experience to be awaken from your beauty sleep by food vendors shouting,"Sale pisang, sale pisang (Sliced sweetened banana)!" right in your ears. It's midnight for God's sake, I could have sale pisang first thing in the morning, not now. This is why I have reservations about going to Cirebon.

Fortunately, things have improved since then. PT KAI has banned food vendors from enter the stations let alone trains (Yay!). Almost all economy and business class trains have been installed with air conditioner (Hip hip hurray!). And there is electrical socket in every seat (Bless PT KAI directors!).

While Cirebon is geographically located in West Java province, it is the closest city to the border of Central Java province. Hence, it has a language that is a mix between Sundanese and Javanese.

The event in Cirebon was quite packed on daytime, but once the sun was set, we had time to roll around the city. Here are the photos I took during the business+leisure trip.

Cirebon train station. Cirebon has yet to have an airport, so land transportation is the only way to reach this city.

 Inside Cirebon train station, a group of musicians are playing keroncong songs.

 This is where I stayed in Cirebon. Nice hotel with an extensive buffet menu for breakfast #important

Nasi Jamblang, a local delicacy. It is basically rice wrapped in jati leaves and served with side dishes, such as tempeh (soybean cake), chicken, sambal (chili paste), etc.

Empal gentong, also a local delicacy.

 Nasi lengko+sate kambing, rice with vegetables topped with very spicy peanut sauce and goat meat on skewers. There was also a bowl of ice durian, not pictured #confession of a girl who eats a lot

Batik Trusmi. When I posted this photo on my Path, my friends were split between the one on the right (Rp 375,000) and the second one next to the one on the right (Rp 675,000). I didn't buy both because I was planning to go to Yogyakarta after Cirebon, but that will be for another post:).

Just when I patted myself in the back for being able to survive the temptation in Trusmi, my colleagues took me to Panembahan, which has even more beautiful batik. Argh. I must return to Cirebon one day and buy some of these batik! #resolution

We had a half day to explore the city and went straight to Keraton Kasepuhan Cirebon.

Intricate details on a column

Bas relief of a bull on the side of the gate

Jewelries that belonged to the Cirebon Royal Family

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Traveling Couples

Adventurous couple: Bruno Frebourg and Isabelle Frebourg pose with Honorary Consul to France Raphael Devianne at the French Consulate in Sanur, Bali on June 28, 2012. The couple has pedaled across 45 countries on their ongoing bicycle journey. BD/Ni Komang, link
I've heard stories about friends having to change their life styles after they are married. Some have to cut on times to hangout and some others have to stop traveling because their spouses dislike the idea of traveling. As a single travel enthusiast, I find those stories a bit disheartening. But here are three couples who shares passion for globetrotting with their spouses and blog about it.

Indonesian couple Jeff and Diana, who were married in 2004, live by Dalai Lama's saying:"Once a year, go someplace you've never been before." They have been traveling to Asia (China, Macau, Hong Kong), Australia and Europe (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Slovakia and Switzerland) as well as visiting the local tourism destinations. In Bahasa.

Dua Ransel, which means Two Backpacks, chronicles the journey of Surabaya-born Dina and her Canadian husband Ryan going across the globe with only two backpacks. In 2009, they sold their stuffs and embarked on what was planned to be a one-year trip. But then, they changed their minds. They called themselves permanent travelers, nomads or even vagabonds. In Bahasa and English.

American couple Julia and Yuriy kicked off their marriage life by taking a six-month honeymoon across the world. The couple, who work as photographers, also visited Indonesia during those six months. Their latest trip was to Iceland! *nosebleed* In English.

Have a lovely Monday!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

While The Boss Is Away, Let's Post Some Conversations :D

Because the following conversations are too good to be kept by myself :).

What Scholarship Is All About
NPM: Have you taken your Master degree?
Me: Not yet, I'm looking for a scholarship to do that.
NPM: You must remember that you have two goals upon receiving a scholarship: ijazah (the degree) and ijabsah (a word play on ijab/wedding oath and sah/official).
Me: -_-

Where's The Phone?
NPM: (Hold a laptop on his right hand and note pads on his left hand) Let's have the meeting now. Wait a minute, where's my mobilephone?
(Spend the next three minutes rummaging his desk, bag, pockets. He's about to use the office phone to call his mobile when I noticed something...)
Me: Isn't that your mobilephone on your left hand? Between those note pads?
NPM: Oh, you're right.

Music Taste Does Not Lie
NPM: We are going to get a visit from KDI on Friday. Please prepare everything.
PFC: KDI as in Kontes Dangdut Indonesia (the Indonesian Dangdut Contest)?
NPM: -_- No, KDI stands for Korean Development Institute.

Because Good Boss Gives Two Days Off
Situation: Friday afternoon
Me: (sneezing)
NPM: Who's sneezing?
Me: I did
NPM: Okay, you can take two days off, starting tomorrow. I'm a good boss, see?
Me: -_- But tomorrow and the day after are days off

Monday, November 18, 2013

Why Can't Indonesians Speak English As A Second Language?

That was the question asked by my Boss CO. He reminisced how he traveled to the small cities in the Philippines and asked directions to a scavenger, who surprisingly could speak English quite well. He said it's the same thing in Cambodia and Laos, where you could just stop any person on the street and he/she could speak English.

Since Southeast Asians share so many similarities, one can't help comparing an ASEAN member to another member. Let's just omit Singapore and Malaysia, who had the Commonwealth connection, from this discussion.

Does this mean we have less linguistic ability compared to our neighbors? No. When I went to Mt. Kelimutu in Flores island a couple of weeks ago, I met this lovely hostel lady who speaks English. She is a simple homemaker and learns the European language through daily interaction with her guests. So yeah, when demands are pressing, many Indonesians can speak any foreign language.

I've been trying to find the answer for the question in the post title and come up with several factors on the why English in Indonesia is an exclusive language spoken only by the young, the hip and the upper crust.

1. Most Indonesians have to learn many languages since early youth, and it confused them. Taking from my own experience, I have a Sundanese father and a Javanese mother, I spent my childhood with my Sundanese-speaking grandma then I learned Bahasa Indonesia at school.
FYI, there are two types of Javanese languages: kromo (the refined one, spoken when with the elders and people we respect) and ngoko (the casual, used amongst friends and like-minded company), while Sundanese has three types: (1) the one used for the elders, (2) the one used for people of the same age and (3) the one used for younger people (Other Sundanese-speaking people out there, please correct me if I'm wrong).

So, by the time Indonesians enroll at school, study Bahasa Indonesia and then study English, they have a mixed up comprehension on the grammar. Before they have a thorough understanding of their mother language, they have to learn the national language, which has a totally different structure.

I believe that if you want to master a foreign language, you should fully understand your own native language (whatever language that is). I had been very fortunate that D worked as a language editor at a publishing company as he had laid a solid foundation on my linguistic ability.

2. Indonesia is a vast archipelago and the distribution of competent English language teachers has been a bit dispersed compared to Cambodia.

3. Many international tourists usually only visit the tourist-packed places, such as Bali island (because it's more convenient in terms of transportation and accommodation, of course). But if they go to far-flung places and interact with the locals, I'm sure that the locals will be able to pick up a word or two from them.

Things have developed for the better. Let's hope that there will be more Indonesians blogging in English to spread the word out.

Anyway, instead of demanding Indonesians to be fluent in English, why don't we introduce Bahasa Indonesia to the tourists? Afterall, this link says Bahasa Indonesia is an easy one to master:).

What do you think? This random rambling is brought to you by the absence of Boss NPM (He's on a business trip to Poland for one week. Oh happiness, oh freedom!). Oh, and have a magnificent Monday! :)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Scientists Announce Discovery of A New Fish Species In East Nusa Tenggara

Well, well, what do you know? You've just left East Nusa Tenggara and the next news you read is about a new fish species found there. You've got to be kidding me, Universe. This makes a good reason to come back, though.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Going Bananas

A neighbor gave me these bananas. We call this type of bananas Pisang Tanduk (horn banana). D wanted to have it fried, M liked it steamed while I ate them raw. How do you like your banana?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The 2013 Trans Flores Trip

After the Komodo tour, my friends and I went on a Trans Flores trip that started from Ende then on to Bajawa and Ruteng before ended in Labuan Bajo again. We flew to Ende and rented a car. It's a road trip in the spice island :).

Flores, which means flower in Portuguese, is like a living and breathing laboratory waiting for people to discover its beauty. It's not the first time I go to Flores. I went to Ende in 2010 (you can read the experience here, here and here). Yet I was once again mesmerized by the beautiful landscape. 

Instead of boring you with the minutiae of the trip, I'll just post the highlight.

My cousin and friends said the trip had changed their preconceived perceptions about Flores island: (1) They thought the whole Flores island was as hot as Labuan Bajo, but Bajawa and Ruteng were cool as they were located in the mountainous area, (2) They thought Flores people were rude and brash due to the rough facial features (dark skin and big eyes that result in intense gaze) as well as the fact that many thugs in Jakarta come from Flores, but actually Flores people are kind and friendly (this post here is proof). 

Nevertheless Pak Kanis, our tour guide for Komodo-Rinca islands who is a native Flores people, jokingly said,"Javanese people are born smiling, but Flores people have to learn to smile. It takes millions of Rupiah to make them smile. We still have a lot to learn about tourism and hospitality."

 Candlenuts under the sun

Allow me to tell you about Filosofi Kemiri (Candlenut Philosophy). When I came to Ende in December 2010, the people were drying candlenuts in front of their homes. The candlenuts were dark-colored and hard-shelled, so hard that we can not crack them open. But once the candlenuts dry, we can crack them by tapping them with palm leaf stalks. 

A Flores people told me,"The candlenuts are perhaps the best metaphor to describe Flores people. We are dark-skinned and look rough on the outside, but if you know how to treat us, we are so easy to crack open. And our hearts are as white as the candlenuts inside the shell."

For me and Cousin Dina, the trip felt like a homecoming journey to our late Grandma's home in Kebumen, Central Java. The road is winding, hugging the hills and mountains. When we flew over Flores (flying from Labuan Bajo to Ende), we saw the massif crawling all over the island. It looks like the roots of a huge plant and has a soul.

Not only that Flores is beautiful in nature, it also has rich culture. Each regencies, or perhaps each village, has its own vocabulary and language. For example, in Labuan Bajo, a young man is called Nana, while in Ende, it's Eja. They can tell which part of Flores a person comes from just to hear the words he/she is using. Now, this is where my ability to mimic local dialect comes handy:). 

With my darkened skin tone (after all those trekking and snorkeling) and the adopted dialect, sometimes they think I come from Flores. As a result, I got a good price for a bag of coffee in Bajawa and a Rp50,000 discount in a hotel in Labuan Bajo when I told the hotel receptionist I just came from Ruteng (well, it's not totally a lie, I did go to Ruteng).    

We took a journey to the darkness of Gua Batu Cermin (Mirror Stone Cave). Courtesy of travel buddy Mbak Polina.

 Pine trees along the road to Mt. Kelimutu. Yeah, I came there for the second time. I wouldn't mind going there again for the third, fourth, fifth and so on:).

Begonia kelimutuensis, a type of begonia that only grows in Mt. Kelimutu. You can find them in the arboretum. Besides learning about the plants, the arboretum makes a great place to listen to the chirping of the birds. Courtesy of travel buddy Mbak Polina

 A candid photo of me on the way to Mt. Kelimutu by travel buddy Faradilla. The sky was so blue!

 We passed Wologai traditional village, which had just been burned down due to a short circuit. Legend has it that the village has a drum made of human skin. The fire destroyed everything and only these musical instruments survived. They are in the process of rebuilding and plan to finish everything by February 2014.

 Menhirs in Bena village

A Flores woman and the hand-made weaving products that she made in Bena village

Maria Krisanti, 3 years old, one of the youngest residents in Bena village. She calls herself Ican. Her mother works as a kindergarten teacher in a neighboring village, and so she lives with her doting grandparents. Isn't she adorable? :)

A Catholic parochial church in Ngada

This building is right across the church.

 A church and a mosque stand side by side in Bajawa. Catholic and Christian dominate this island. If you are a Muslim and want to take a road trip in Flores, hire a Muslim driver so he can point you to halal restaurants. If you can't find a Muslim driver, then you should resort to Padang cuisines.

The mystery of Mt. Inerie

 The paddy fields in Flores follow the land contour

 The farmers in Flores utilise their tractor as a means of transportation. They connect the machine to a carriage and use it to take people and other tools

Instead of using ounces/grams, vendors sell the coffee powder by glasses. I asked this vendor in Bajawa market with local dialect and she offered a glass for Rp 5000 and three glasses for Rp 10,000. After we asked around, she happened to be the only vendor who offered such cheap prices. We bought all of her supply and she had to borrow coffee from the other vendors in order to fulfill our demands. The vendors roast and grind their own coffee, so each vendor has different product quality. It's custom-made coffee :). Courtesy of travel buddy Mbak Polina

My holiday face was grinning cheek to cheek at Soa hot spring. Courtesy of Cousin Dina.

My feet in Soa hot spring, Bajawa.

Another view of my feet at Pantai Batu Hijau. Oh look, my T-shirt matched the pebbles.

 The spider web rice field in Cancar, Ruteng. It looks as if the aliens came and made it. Courtesy of Cousin Dina

 My travel buddies and the Catholic nuns in Susteran Maria Berduka Cita (the Grieving Mary Nunnery) in Ruteng. They stayed for one night in the nunnery. I was not in the picture because I had left for Labuan Bajo. Rather than the nunnery, I'd prefer to stay in a monastery (just kidding!). Courtesy of Mbak Polina

Due to the limited days of leave, I have to skip Ruteng and head straight to Labuan Bajo-Denpasar-Jakarta. There are many other sites I'd like to visit in Flores island, such as Wae Rebo village and Liang Bua cave (where the hobbit fossil was found). I will definitely come again to Flores. Well, perhaps two or three years from now, because the trip to eastern Indonesia really makes holes in my wallet :P.