Sunday, October 9, 2016

Post #1300: Bandung and Singapore

Stone path through the rice paddies
Just squished the 3" spider gliding toward my chair - eek eek - with my class notebook. Then I step on the binder so I know it's dead dead dead. Ugh. Do these things come in pairs? I swing my focus back on grading a doctoral prospectus by a student from Myanmar. Next up? A project for the Philippines. What interesting projects these 13 students have designed.

How happy the helper will be to scrape the bug off the book in the morning. Sorry, Ibu. But I don't have the stomach for it tonight. "Rosemarie, carry on and stay on task: finish those papers."

Monday, September 26, 2016
Waldemar flies to Singapore to teach a two-week class so I'm on my own. I thought I might be afraid and instead it becomes a bit of a holiday. I'm working every day and going to language school. But I also plan a daily outing to explore the city. There's no obligation to stop for W's errands. I sit in the front of the car with the driver so I know where I am in the city; I'm not just following along.

Rushing streams between rice terraces
Angela asks me to lead the walk in the hills on Thursday. It's odd, but I can't. I'm incapable of finding my way among the twists and little lanes dotting the landscape. (The walkers may not believe me, but it's true. We could end up anywhere!)

Instead, I ask the assistance of an experienced friend. I have a good idea of where I am when I've planned a trip, but I lose my bearings when going with others. I put one foot in front of the other, listen to the stories around me, and enjoy the beauty of one vista at a time. I could no more lead a tour after walking the fields and jungles within a group than I could build a skyscraper after seeing a picture of one. (And I don't remember the names of where I've been: I'm gathering snapshots in my head of experiences rather than capturing maps and facts.)

Language class is amazing. Day by day, I'm integrating just a few words into what I say or understand. I study hard between sessions. Because the words are basic, they add exponentially to my vocabulary. Now I look forward to learning instead of dreading class as before. Thanks be to God! (How frustrating it was to have words continually poured over my head, only to drain completely away.)

Tuesday and Wednesday
I grade for four or five hours before heading out the door. I need a diversion to keep from going blind and hunched over my computer.

Tuesday, I find a beautiful silk batik scarf at a place suggested by Pak Entang. "It's where all the foreigners and tourists love to go," he says. He's driven his fair share of expats and locals to landmark shops and attractions.

Odd (and enormous) statues outside a wealthy suburb
The lady who runs the shop from her house is busy with a Chinese lady. The customer is married to an Indonesian in Bandung. Her daughter is visiting from San Francisco, though she and her brother work in Silicon Valley. Mom and daughter are buying gifts for friends. I invite the mom to movie night since the daughter is leaving next week - of course, I hear the story and meet a new friend.

Wednesday, I break from work to explore Bandung's biggest mall. Yes, I confirm to myself that I'm not a mall person. In the whole place, only one shop - selling batiks - looks even remotely interesting. I eat noodles in the upper food court and force myself to walk past every store on three big floors. I am done eating and shopping in an hour and a half, though I make myself linger in a few shops. Done. Home we go. Whew.

The dog greets me at the car door with tail swishes and a few lunges. Bad dog. Happy boy.

I return to grading.

Our destination: the waterfall
We leave at 8. Bob is leading the group into the hills and up to a waterfall. There are 10 of us today. We start with a steep hike that has all of us stopping for breath. Up. up. and more up. Ugh - we'd all forgotten that the first bit is soooo long. Every time we go around a corner, the hill continues. Finally, it flattens out enough to go up and down.

This is more interesting than a gym workout any day. (I can't talk myself into going to a fitness center.) We have to watch our feet, duck branches, and jump across the ditches that form in rainy season. The water has washed out soil a few feet deep where a trail used to be. I dig my walking sticks into the clay so I don't wipe out. One young walker from Australia slides down sideways into the mud. When we're almost done, the other slips on the rocks: she'll have bruises tomorrow.

The waterfall is breathtaking. We go to within 100 meters, stopped by flooding where we usually wade across the river to the last part of the path.

The way home is through rice fields. Old fabrics wave on ribbons strung between bamboo poles. The wind catches the little flags and sways the poles. Sometimes the farmers tie the end of the ribbon in the stream - when the water catches it, the entire system pulls back and forth and the flags wave and bob across the rice plants.

We pass every growing stage of rice: the young shoots planted in rows, the lush lime green of emerging plants, the dark heads of full kernels bowing their necks above the grassy fronds, and finally the brown sticks left after cutting ... with a few new leaves sticking above the pond.

Three kinds of bamboo bridges crisscross the streams: 1. three-foot-wide lengths of straight bamboo stems of 4-6" trunks, tied together every 6-8 feet, with a bamboo rail fastened to one side; 2. two-foot-wide straight (but thinner) bamboo stems with no railing (those usually span 10-15'); and 3. woven mats of bamboo that sway across longer crossings; most of those have a railing (one horizontal bamboo to grip, fastened with a vertical piece every few yards.) Not sturdy. Rotting away in places. But functional and the only way to cross the irrigation ditches.

Ribbons strung across rice fields to ward off birds
The farmers have taken stones out of the fields (or hauled rocks from elsewhere) to lay a stippled path in the narrow paths between the dams that hold in water. We step from stone to stone for a kilometer or two, sometimes climbing across big rocks that dot the field. Though rain threatened when we set out, the rocks stay dry - a relief. Sometimes the rock trail narrows and we step up / step down / step up / step down between paddies.

"It's quite dangerous, actually," Bob remarks. "If you fall on these rocks you could really hurt yourself." Which is why we step quickly but carefully, stone after stone.

We are muddy and sweaty when we reach the cars. Helen passes out wet wipes so we can wipe the grip off our calves. Most of us have fresh flip-flops ready to keep the mud off the car mats.

A goat herder on a main thoroughfare
One car heads for town one way. Our car goes back to the Bamboo Shack, where we drop off our passengers. It's 1:30. No lunch yet - but we stopped for a coconut yogurt popsicle in Lembang (the north hill above Bandung). Pak E drives me to Good Buy Furniture for a quick purchase before heading home.

Macet! (pronounced "mochet" for "traffic!") I don't walk in the door until 3:20. Time for a quick shower, and we're back on the road by 3:35. We head back up and around to the Bamboo Shack where we have a Bible study each week. Miss D joins us for the first time. She has lots of questions about Exodus 3 - the burning bush and the call of Moses to leadership. (He's 80 years old, after 40 years in Egyptian palaces and schools and 40 more in the desert herding sheep and maybe a few goats.)

Macheti on a two-lane road
By the time we get back home through traffic - Pak E does a few U-turns because policemen are blocking our normal routes (traffic control) ... and it's 7pm. I still have to pack. I grab a mini-Magnum bar: no lunch or supper today because of no time. I have to pack and write instructions for the help while I'm gone (what to eat for lunch; food to save and what to take home, reminders to lock up, etc.) By 11, I've finished and am ready for sleep.

Night prayers and other noises wake me a few times. It's a brief night.

I'm up before 5 and leave for the airport about 6am. I forget my Visa card and earplugs for the airplane. Otherwise, I have packed the computer that needs repair in Singapore, the hard drive W wants, and basic outfits into a carry-on and computer case.

The driver has cash for gas, the card to pay the highway tolls, and instructions on picking me up from Jakarta. He negotiates the morning chaos that is Bandung's race to work and unloads my carry-on at the top of the steps to the airport terminal. Then he disappears into the cars, motorcycles, carts, bicycles, and trucks - sometimes 3 or 4 across, weaving their way in two traffic lanes.

A driver is no luxury - he's a necessity around here. The drivers all know each other. When we shop or buy groceries, the drivers hang around together and gossip. I ask Pak E if they talk about the foreigners and locals they drive. "Oh yes, we know all about everyone." That's fine. We talk about the good drivers, too.

He points to a restaurant: "That's a good place."

"Have you eaten there?"

"Tidak. Tidak. Mahal, Ibu. (No. no, too expensive.) But my friend works there." The drivers know everything. And they will get their passengers away to safety if we are in an accident or in danger: foreigners are usually held liable, regardless who is at fault.

Once on the plane, I fall fast asleep. I wake because the Chinese man behind me is speaking in a convention-room voice. I pin him with a stare. He blinks at me but continues to shout at his seatmate. So I turn with a long "teacher stink-eye" (my kids' term at one point) and he startles and speaks more quietly.

Signs at a high school promote Singaporean values:
Building Parnerships, Grooming Leaders,
Developing Character, Achieving Excellence
Singapore immigration is efficient as always. "Bam bam" for the 21st stamp in my new passport, acquired in June. Yikes. So many exits and entries for visas, teaching, and conferences. The taxi takes me to the seminary, where I get a warm welcome from the staff.

Cheryl runs me to the flat in the school's little rust-colored car. Up 7 storeys on a smooth elevator,, and pull the suitcase in and across the white porcelain tiles of the flat to the bedroom. Once it's open, I get out my IPad to read a bit. Instead, I crash into sleep again. Waldemar teaches until 2, when we go for lunch. He's had a big brunch so he just watches me eat rice and chicken from a Korean food stand (ok) and drink ice water.

I've forgotten how warm Singapore is: perspiration runs from my temples to my chin, from my underarms to my waist. It's not uncomfortable, just humid.

Foods we do (and don't) recognize
W heads for town to drop off the failing computer. I browse a grocery store "for fun" - and am amazed by the variety of foods on display: Indian, Malay, Chinese, and Western. I'm jealous and dream of taking some home with me (but I have another leg of travel, so never mind.)

It's only 6 or 7 blocks to the flat, where I read a bit and then fall asleep again. When W and Cheryl come back to the flat after 6, we go for Thai food and conversation. Cheryl is grading all day and evening; she flies back to the States at 3am tonight. I cherish the time she gives us.

I'm not asleep until long after midnight. I'll be tired tomorrow. W is tired after a week of teaching; he's asleep by 9:30. We make no plans for the morning.

Streets so smooth rickshaws can drive them
It takes us until almost noon to stir from the flat. We walk from Arab Street to Little India - not that far but a world of culture away. Lunch is the lamb biryani lunch I order each time we're in Singapore. But they're out of mango lassi.

We sit on plastic stools across from a big mosque, watching traffic go by. The couple from Iran sitting next to us is Persian, and like all Persians, they are quick to distinguish themselves from Arabs. They're on a weeklong vacation, enjoying the sights and sounds of the city-state.

W and I traipse through Mustafa, a whole-city-block and 5-storey high buy-everything-you-can-imagine department store. Items from India and elsewhere are crammed high, deep, and wide in every possible configuration. Customers jam the aisles with carts, friends, and kids. It's a spectacular and awful place to shop. One trip every year or so is plenty.

We're up and out early to Mt Elizabeth in a taxi. Prayer meeting before the church service starts about 9am. We're first in the room and I open a drape to look out on the highrises, pools, and streets of Singapore. W wonders if I'm going to close the curtain before others arrive. Nope - a little light in a room is a good thing.

There are 15 of us - from 10 nations - who pray in Jesus' name, reading together scriptures that tell of God's power, his goodness, and his love for us. The Bible verses encourage us to ask God for healing, help, and understanding. My soul is so full that I don't know if I can hold more.

Except that the service flows with worship, a thoughtful and challenging talk on loving and forgiving others as a reflection of God's love and forgiveness, and ends with a meal together. People talk with us, pray for each other, and hang around. It's a warm community of people on a journey together.

Joshua and Claudia, who have led the church this year, take us for lunch. We're at a Swiss restaurant - amazing to see the chalet-like walls and a 150 year old sled from Zermatt. The buffets are lined up back to back. I choose a chicken-mushroom crepe and forget to go back for my camera to snap the process. (Finally I understand how to use the flat crepe-maker that I gave away.)

The Swiss sleigh dates to 1835
The kids run to the playground and play with the sheet of stickers they get from the staff. We adults talk about the future, about hopes and dreams, and about serving others. It's the best kind of conversation and a delicious meal. Their family has an evening appointment, but we're meeting with Malasian friends CK and Mimi for supper. We hop the underground MRT (light rail) in opposite directions to the college apartment.

There's time for a 10-minute nap before CK, Mimi, and 5-year-old Ansel arrive at the flat. His twin sister Angel is sick. Sad - we love to watch these kids growing up: we prayed for CK and Mimi to have children and here they are.

CK drives us to Changi in the east. Our friends know good food - and today is no exception. We have to sign in to get to the Mandarin parking lot, overshadowed by gleaming white apartments. Name, phone number, license plate. The security guard is serious about his job.

"Doesn't it feel like we're at a resort?" we ask each other. Gleaming white, rounded futuristic apartments soar above the restaurant. Our window overlooks the central courtyard where families play in a massive pool and eat at covered barbecue pits.

Supper at the Thai restaurant is delicious, a Chinese-leaning feast of ginger fish, pad thai, fried rice, honey chicken, and sweet-and-sour pork. Ansel is a well-behaved 5-year-old who loves fried rice and fish. He digs in with enthusiasm and is still wide awake at 7pm.

"What time do the kids go to bed?"

Mimi answers, "10 or 11 at night." Most kids stay up late from a young age. When they're old enough for school, many will have tutors or private lessons in sports, arts, or language after class, arriving home at 7 or 8. They may eat out with friends at the safe and reasonably-priced food courts. Or they may join their parents to eat a late supper out. They'll be woken by 7am, ready for another day.  (Singapore's sleep-deprivation and work ethic seem to start at birth.)

After dinner, we stroll around the pool area to let the food settle. "These apartments are small but beautiful," Mimi says, looking around. "They cost $6-800,000 US each. This is a desirable area: the breeze off the ocean helps cool and refresh."

What a good thing. Singapore daytime temperatures are in the 90s (+32oC) and humid. When we walk any distance, our skin is dripping. But laundry dries in an hour or two, the water wick-ed away quickly.

We feel hot this visit. The longer we live in Bandung, the more we seem to notice the heat. It's strange: living in Seattle, we craved the sun so much that the weather was a wake-up and comfort for our bodies. We baked our starved-for-sun bones on each teaching trip here. Now, the heat is a sharp contrast to the pleasant temperature of Bandung (28oC days; 20oC nights and 75% humidity in rainy season).

Crowds on public transit
Lightning pulses across the sky for an hour before dawn. The thunder is spectacular. I open the drapes to enjoy the light show flashing overhead and the growls and snarls that follow. Cars on the expressway buzz nearby. It's 5:30am. Wakey-wakey.

The Singapore clock is linked to China (whose 1 timezone spans 6 zones in other countries). Chinese markets drive the eastern seaboard of the Pacific and the business-savvy founders of Singapore - like the Philippines and Malaysia - chose the Chinese timezone. So we fly westward to Singapore but forward one time, not back as expected. (Further west, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Pakistan are an hour behind Jakarta, Indonesia. India is 2 hours behind Indo.) It's a bit confusing without the explanation of business alignment and a timezone map.

Always wired, work or play
It doesn't get light here until 7, but Singaporeans gen an extra hour of evening daylight. The sun setsl after 7pm. (Indonesia is dark at 6.) That may explain how much they cram into a day. People are up by 6 or 7am. They'll work a full day and then families and friends will meet for supper at 8 or 9pm, when restaurants and food courts are jammed.

We've never met people who work and play with as much determination as Singaporeans. Construction crews and helpers from across Asia help the city hum along from morning to night. Maids get only one day off every two or four weeks. Expats find the pace grueling and almost unsustainable.

W is handing in my visa documents this morning while I stay in.

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