1-25 Peace Corps Indonesia

Getting from the bus stop to his house.  (Jason is in front.)

While in Indonesia, we spent a night at another PCV’s site. While we were visiting, he had another PCV visiting as well. The four of us stayed up way too late chatting about life in Peace Corps, how similar and different our lives were and all the food we missed eating.

Let’s start with some differences. The most obvious was his housing. He lived in a house with a family, in which they lived downstairs and he lived on the second floor. Please note: there was a second floor. The house had indoor plumbing, a gas stove, running water, electricity, glass windows and internet. He was required to give a portion of his living allowance to his family each month, for which in return they fed him and payed the bills.

He worked in a school about half an hour away and biked to and from work each day. He had a set schedule at school which had him there every day for most of the day.

Visiting the nearest town was a 30 minute bike ride and a 15 minute bus ride away. Getting to the capital and the PC office was a 30 minute bike ride and a 4 hour bus ride. The whole thing could be accomplished for less than $20.

Shot from the second floor.  Look at all the buildings!

And that’s about where the differences stopped.

When we went for a walk, we got a lot of “tourist” comments. Things like “You from?” shouted from behind us, (meaning “Where are you from?” and often used as a greeting/conversation started with outsiders). Because, you know, waiting until someone walks completely past you is a good time to start a conversation with them.

We bumped into one of his students on the road. Not like we were walking someplace that the PCV was well-known and ran into someone he knows from there. No, we were in an area the PCV had never visited in his town. The student immediately recognized the PCV and stopped to say hi. They chatted for five minutes before we moved on.

We shared a common sense of disbelief, frustration and confusion over some of the local customs. Even though the cultures are wildly different, the emotional response of being outside your culture is the same. We swapped a ton of stories about the intensity of cultural activities, everything from funerals to butchering animals to church holidays.

Transport, fun in every country.  Also, bananas seem to be rampant.

The laid back attitude that comes from an overwhelming amount of confusion. Its not that we don’t want to know what going on, its that we’ve accepted that we might never know what’s going on. So instead, we just roll with it. Now is time to butcher a pig? Ok. Now is time to take a nap in the middle of the floor? Ok. Now is time to take off shoes and pray in the temple? Ok. Now is time to teach class? Ok. Now is time to wait for the bus? We’re still waiting for the bus? You mean the bus isn’t coming today? Ok.

Overall, it was striking how our lives paralleled theirs. Though the culture and trappings of life are different, the things we took away from Peace Corps were very much the same. Our attitudes, our hopes for our communities and our love for our country were all similar.

The other major theme of similarity? TexMex is amazing and how have other places not caught on?

1-14 Silversmithing or How to Make a Silver Ring

I want to be a silversmith when I grow up.

The paper-coated silver strips

No. Seriously. I love blacksmithing (hence the blacksmithing class in my past), but it is hard to do mostly because it requires space and materials. I did do some on the little forge I built during the class, but it was always kind of a pain. I think silversmithing solves that problem.

We took a silversmithing mini-course. When I saw it on the travel sites, of course I got excited. Anything creative does that to me. It seemed cool and was well-recommended on all the sites I saw, so I contacted the place and set up an appointment. (More complicated that one might think, but it all worked out in the end.)

Punching out the letters

We walked up to a beautiful archway at 9am. Inside the archway was a family compound. We went in. The smiling grandma in the first doorway pointed us further back. The two kids in school uniforms on the next porch pointed us further back. We went down a small slope and into an open-sided pavilion. A middle-aged woman put down her wash and ushered us over to chairs. She brought us water and a bunch of books of silver jewelery pictures. We sat and slipped through them while we waited for something else to happen.

It needs to be noted that during our brief stopover in Australia, Jason once again “misplaced” his ring. He left it at a friend’s house while he showered. So, Jason was shy a wedding ring and we were making silver jewelery. Does this seem like an excellent opportunity to anyone else? We decided on rings. Just to be cute, we went for matching ones.

Welding the rings shut

The teachers at the place were excellent. They sized the ring, then used calipers and the ring size to mark out a piece of paper in the correct shape. We drew out our design. They cut out the design and glued it to a strip of silver.

Once the strip was glued on, we had to etch the design into the metal. We used a handful of tiny punches to cut the lines. The punches were straight and curved and came in a variety of widths, curvature and lengths. It was like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, except instead of pieces I had to match the line to the right shape and size of punch. It took us quite awhile.

When the etching was done, we flipped the strips over and punched “TEGABIS” into the backs. I messed up the “E” in mine. When the teachers saw it, they took it away, soldered new silver over and gave it back for me to fix. Did I mention they were good teachers?

Grinding, sanding and polishing to a smooth finish

The teachers took and pounded the strips into rings by hitting the metal around a round stick with the back of the hammer. We each had to try the ring on a few times, and cut out tiny strips of metal, to get the right fit. When we were satisfied, they welded the ring shut.

After the ring was a ring, I thought we were done. Nope. First, the teacher painted them with an oxidizing agent, then he left them in front of a hairdryer. When the oxidizing agent had properly taken affect, we started buffing them. Three rounds of buffing made them shiny and smooth, then we repeated that on the inside.


At the end of the morning, we had two new rings and I have a new hobby. (Well, once I get home I will have a new hobby.) We joked that now we have wedding rings. It took us 5 years and a unique path, but isn’t that just a reflection of us?

1-8 Museums and Rice Paddies

The gates to the museum.  Impressive, no?

Our second day in Ubud, we decided to go look for culture and rice paddies. The Agung Rai Museum of Art (ARMA) was supposed to be one of the best art museums in Bali, and it was in the same direction as some rice paddies I wanted to take pictures of. So, we went exploring.

The ARMA was pretty neat. As usual, I don’t have the artistic background to appreciate modern art. There were 2 pieces that stood out to me. One was a painting covered in religious symbols. Each symbol was in a little box and the boxes made rows. I think if I knew more about the symbols in question, it would have been a fascinating piece. As it was, I could recognize the Hindu and Buddhist origins but that was about all. The second artist had squeezed the paint out of the tube in long lines. She layered them on top of each other with spaces in between to make an amazing 3D effect in the rice fields, on the hat of the workers and the thatch of the houses. I thought that was pretty cool.

Me, trying to carve. 

More interesting was the “traditional” section. There were traditional style paintings from a huge range of time periods. The older ones were batik images showing scenes from Hindu epics while the newest one depicted the Tiger plane crash in April, 2013. It was interesting to see the different influences throughout history and how they chose to display them in the museum. The paintings from around WWII had a distinctly Japanese cast, everything from flowers and mountains to the way the human form was depicted. The more modern ones had more colors per image while the older ones had one main color and then one or two highlight colors. (I wonder if this comes from the history of batik, in which colors are layered over one another with the negative spaces created by wax.)

The path to the paddies

After we wandered around the galleries, we went out to the wood carving demonstration. The carver allowed us to try, but we were both being timid. I was afraid I would ruin it, which made him laugh. He didn’t seem to think I could, which looking at his other stuff, I’m not sure I could have. I think he would have just incorporated it back into the work and no one would ever know the difference.

We wandered out the back of the museum into a rice paddy. At first, the path was nice and neatly kept with stepping stones to walk on. Then, it turned into plain concrete, and finally into raised mud. I think we were further than most tourists go, but it was interesting. The first ones we were walking through were all plain mud. There were little nurseries in the corner with bright green rice seedlings while ducks roamed the mud. We met a nice old farmer working on blocking his seedlings from the ducks, but we couldn’t communicate much with him.

Duck, duck, grey duck (or brown duck)

After awhile, we wandered out the back of the rice paddies and into a little neighborhood. On a whim, we followed a sign that said “Kris display” (‘Kris’ are the Hindu swords.) The sign pointed into someone’s household complex. We walked in and stood there in confusion for awhile. An old lady found us and brought us to the kris display. There were a bunch of beautiful kris with stunningly rippled blades. She had a wide variety of ages of the blades. They were her husband’s but he died and She was trying to sell some to us, but we turned her down and left. I think she needs to sell them to a museum.

Down the alley

The contrast between the curated art museum and the back room of an old woman’s house didn’t even strike me until the evening. Somehow, it seemed to fit that both of those things would exist basically side-by-side in Ubud. There were a lot of contrasts like that in Ubud.

Rice paddies tucked in behind the main road

9-14 Australia Part 2: The Dry Activities

Lanterns at dusk = magic.

 We spent two days wet. Then we spent five days dry. The wet days get a blog to themselves, but dry days aren’t nearly as interesting. Mostly, we hung out, wandered around town, played on the internet, watched people on the boardwalk, and took afternoon naps.

One afternoon, we went for a walk on the boardwalk. There was a festival going on, so we thought we’d check it out. The festival wasn’t that interesting, but there were artistic interpretations of Chinese lanterns hung in a few trees. I thought they were cool so we stopped and took photos. Then we wandered onward and I didn’t think about it anymore. Until we were heading back to our hostel to get dinner. All the lanterns were lit. It was unexpectedly beautiful. We stopped and played with the camera again.
The false beach in Cairns has false rocks

We went back out to the boardwalk that night. We wanted to go walking. We stopped by a haagen daz (I lack umlauts and the knowledge of how to spell that.) ice cream parlor. There used to be one in uptown Minneapolis but it closed forever ago. It was delicious ice cream. We wandered on with our ice creams. I was thinking about turning around and heading back to the hostel when I heard flute music. Jason and I followed the music to a street performer. We sat and listened to him play and at ice cream and watched the stars.

Down by the boardwalk…

On our last day in Cairns, we rented a car. I haven’t gotten a new copy of my driver’s license since I lost my wallet, so Jason had to drive. He was excited to drive, which was great until they gave us a stick shift. So, we had to change to an automatic and then we were off. We went to Kuranda Wildlife Park and Aboriginal Experience. The wildlife park was decent. The cages seemed a bit small to me, but the animals all seemed content. The guide was very knowledgeable and clearly cared about the animals. He had lots of good stories about how dangerous all the animals are, which is only fair. It is Australia.

Please note the “Don’t get eaten by a crocodile” sign.

The Aboriginal Experience part was cheesy but fun. The guide, wearing a loincloth and body paint, took us to a field where he showed us how to throw a spear both with and without a launcher. Then he played the digerido. He showed us the basic technique and then invited us to try. Jason and another young guy from the group tried it first. Neither of them was terribly successful. Jason sounded like a dying animal. I tried it. I choose to believe I had greater success. I managed to make a noise that ended in a dying animal, instead of being a dying animal all the way through. Next up, we went and learned to throw a boomerang. Jason did pretty well; his got most of the way back to him. I did better than I thought I would.
Feeding a kangaroo!

When we finished with the aboriginal area, we went on a WWII Duck tour. The park has a dozen or so amphibious vehicles from WWII which they take around the nature preserve and point out interesting plants. The coolest part about that was finding out the English names for a bunch of things I see daily and some of the things I eat. We wandered through the orchard after that, which was also super informative.

It made noise.  I’ll take that.

We had a picnic lunch and then went to a little tourist stop where we looked at all the pretty things. There were a lot of pretty things. And a lot of hippies. All the blond dreadlocks and harem pants made me miss Fest. (Let me make myself clear that the blond dreadlocks and harem pants are not the things I miss about Fest, merely associated with all the good things there.) We wandered through the market area which sold a lot of crafts, “magic” stones and other items I would expect at Fest booths. It was nice to have a moment of forgetting that I’m on the other side of the world.

Jason had fun driving on the wrong side of the road. He did a good job staying on the right and staying in the middle of the lane. He did a less good job signaling his turns, however the windshield was very clean by the end of the day. I had fun channel surfing on the radio and watching the scenery.
It was a good and much needed vacation. I look forward to some extended traveling in a few months.

9-6 Australia Part 1: Diving!

On the boat!

The highlight of this trip was the diving and the dive tour. We booked it well in advance after reading about a bunch of different dive operators. We went with Deep Sea Diver’s Den because it was PADI certified (as opposed to one of the other international certifications), had good reviews and was in the cheap side of the mid-range of prices. We made a good choice.

They picked us up on Monday morning and took us to the wharf where we boarded the first boat. The boat left the harbor and headed for the reef. After about an hour and a half, we stopped at the first dive site. I was glad the dive master who was guiding us made us run through basic skills, since it had been a few months. The other two people we were diving with hadn’t gone in a few years and it showed.

The dive itself was nice. Not the most impressive one we went on, but still, anything on the Great Barrier Reef is pretty much bound to be cool.

We left from that dive site and went further out on the reef where we dove again. After that dive, we joined up with the big, live-aboard boat. Jason and I and a few other people changed boats and put our stuff away. We had about ten minutes to sit down before we were back on the dive deck for dive three.

The fish really liked the ship’s light at night.

At this point some of the dives start running together. I’m not sure which one it was that I spotted the fire fish/ lion fish sleeping under the anchor blocks. (I was having problems equalizing and was going down slower than everyone, so I spotted it.) Then we swam over a turtle, though not a big guy. Only about two feet long. (Different ideas of big turtles started applying on the next dive.) We also saw a black-tipped reef shark that was about five feet long.

We returned to the boat around 5 and had an hour to chill out. I went up top and watched the water. That is a whole lot of blue. We ate tasty food and then went diving again. (Jason would like me to point out that the food was fantastic.)

I watched the sunrise.  It was a good one.

The night dive was very cool. There were big gray fish that have learned to hunt by the light of the torches. If we pointed a torch at a fish, the big fish would swoop in and eat it. It was almost as much fun to watch the other divers as to watch the fish. Each diver became a little pinpoint of light as we swam. It was like watching moving constellations. During our safety stop, (every dive there is a saftey stop before you go all the way up to let your body reacclimate) we covered our flashlights and waved our fingers through the air. There was a full moon and the bioluminescence made trails of sparkles through the water. I had a magic wand in my fingers.

Jason and I were the last group to head up. The boat had a flood light on the back and a bunch of fish were attracted to it. We watched the silhouette of the other divers and the fish in the light as we ascended. We could see little rainbow sparkles in the their bubbles, too.

Dawn over the live-aboard boat.

They fed us again once we were dry. The cook made too much dessert so we had to have two. In the morning, we ate breakfast and immediately got back in the water. We saw a turtle who’s shell was more than a meter long. We saw another turtle and a few more sharks. (Just reef sharks, don’t freak out.)

We moved from that mooring to one closer to shore where we did two dives. The last dive was my favorite. We went in caves. Our dive guide knew which caves popped out at the other end, so he led us through them. In one, the first exit we were heading for was blocked by a giant sea turtle, so we went further in. The second one was really dark and so neat. (Jason was much less impressed. I thought it was awesome.) Also, we swam under a turtle and saw a sleeping shark that was over 2 meters long.

Sleepy head. 

We transfered boats again after lunch and headed back to shore. (Again, Jason would like to say that the food was delicious.) We both napped on the way back in. Diving that much is exhausting, but really cool.

It had been a few months since we’d been diving, so it was good to go again. I had a few rough dives in the middle where I really struggled to keep my buoyancy right. I was pleased with my last two dives where I felt much more in control and calm about it. I still need to stay pretty aware of it, but at least I feel like I can control it and not have it be the only thing I do during my dive.