How to use a mandi (Indonesian bath)

A mandi is a traditional Indonesian way of washing oneself where you take a small scoop dipped into a large tub or container of cold water and pour the water over yourself. It’s accompanied by an eastern style squat toilet in which the mandi is also used as a means of washing after going to the toilet.

And I need you today, Oh Mandi.

In Indonesia, especially in rural areas, these baths are commonly found. Western oriented hotels are an exception as well as some apartments and homes in bigger cities. What I typically do is leave a small amount of water in there for the occasional hand wash or refresh during the hot afternoon hours. There is no hot water but that doesn’t matter too much as the cool water is more refreshing. Sometimes the water comes out warm anyway which doesn’t do the trick like the cooler water. When I’m ready to take a full shower, which is typically in the morning and evening before bed, I will fill it up to about 1/4.


No, you don't jump in it.

After the desired amount of water is in the mandi, it’s time to start scooping water out and onto yourself. A few direct hits to the face and back are usually enough to wake me up. I typically stand away from the mandi when I’m using the soap as to not let dirty water go back in. When I’m finished scrubbing I clean off my hands first and then rinse the rest off by pouring the small scoop over myself until I’m good to go.

Get over here!!!!

When I first encountered the mandi I was a bit concerned but after a few uses it really is no less refreshing than an actual shower. I have no choice really, seeing as though I’m living in a small village.

Back in the Muslim World

This is another refreshing feeling. I have no words to explain it but I find myself gravitating towards the Muslim world for some reason. Not because I am doing any sort of spiritual transformation into Islam, but instead there is an attraction to it that I can’t fully explain. My experience with Islam and traveling to countries dominated by the religion is exactly what got me this volunteer job. During the interview I was told that is what set me apart from the other candidates as well as already having been to Bukit Lawang. What I like about the version of Islam in Indonesia is that it isn’t incredibly conservative so it’s a nice mixture of western, eastern and Islamic tradition. It’s interesting hearing the call to prayer against a jungle back drop as opposed to the more traditional Arabian landscapes of desert and dry plains.

Islam but not too conservative

It’s certainly an interesting time to be here given the recent developments in the “war on terror.” I don’t shy away from political conservations when I travel even though it’s often suggested to avoid them. I find if I keep an open mind and listen to what others say, I can gain a lot of knowledge and perspective I might not otherwise have had. Indonesia gets a bad wrap as being a country where a majority of the population disagree with western values and are hostile towards Americans. I can say with confidence that I haven’t met anyone that came even close to anti-American sentiment. Obviously, I could eventually come across the occasional hatred but that can happen anywhere. There are small factions within Indonesia that want to overthrow the moderate government that is currently in place. Sharia law is already practice in the province north of here, Aceh, which gained national attention during the 2006 Indian Ocean Tsunami where 60,000 Indonesians lost their lives. Indonesia is one of those places that being American seems to be an asset and adds to my experience. As opposed to the British or Dutch who they see far more of, Americans offer them a conversation that they don’t normally get to have. It doesn’t hurt having Obama as president since he lived in Indonesia for 4 years and many Indonesians think very highly of him. “Where are you from?” … “America.” “Ooooh-BAHM-ah!!!”

After my contract is over I’m probably going to spend a few weeks traveling through the parts of Sumatra I haven’t seen yet. Including Banda Aceh at the very northern tip where I can see for myself a beautiful city with friendly people that the state department says is a no-go area for Americans.

Living in Sumatra

Time to Freak Out

I considered waiting to write until after things got better because I know they will. However, It would be more interesting to go back and look at how unnecessarily worried I was. In short, this is going to be long two months in Sumatra. I’m not so concerned that it won’t be worth it because I know it will and in the end I’ll laugh when I read back at this first post. It’s just that I’m sort of miserable right now. I have no one to vent to so here it goes blog readers I’m going to pour it on. It’s hot. It’s so hot. There is no escape from the hot. I want my mommy!!!! Waah! I have a fan in my room but if I blow it directly at myself I’ll end up with a sore throat. There is absolutely nothing to do where I’m living so I know I’ll be making frequent trips into the town of Bukit Lawang as often as possible to break up the boredom at the clinic I’m living in. I live at the Bukit Lawang Trust clinic which is a non-profit health center that was built after the 2003 floods that destroyed this town. The staff has been great. Everyone has been really welcoming so no complaints there. And no complaints about the organization itself as everything has gone as expected. The realization that my living arrangements leave me with very little to do is starting to set in though and only time will tell if I can manage to keep myself busy when I’m not teaching. On top of all of this, I’m still not 100% healthy. I have a finger nail infection that just won’t go away. Finally, the sores on my ankles healed up but now I’m stuck with this nasty crusty dried out nose from my prior cold that is getting kind irritated and gross. I’m starting to realize that these last two items are what mostly have me down right now. The heat, I’ve dealt with before, albeit not for this long of a period.

My Home at th Clinic

My Home at the Clinic

But, enough of all that. I have to suck it up and get to it because classes start on Monday and I’m the new English teacher in town. I have to put my game face on and start off my new career properly. I have quite a bit of control in how things go at the clinic and the school. There are only 2-3 classes that I am teaching each day. I can set my own schedule and even add as many classes as I want but I’m mostly going with what the last teacher set. One hour in the morning for the clinic staff, an hour and a half in the afternoons to children ages 8-11 at the school, and then back to the clinic for an adult class in the evenings for an hour. The prior teacher skipped Thursday night adult classes and moved it to Friday night so I’m just going to move that back to Thursday night so I’m teaching Monday through Thursday. This gives me a full three days to escape the clinic and get my head straight before coming back on Mondays. Even some of the staff admit they need to break away and stay at one of the tourist bungalows along the river on the weekends. I may even find myself making the five hour bus journey back to Medan for an a/c, satellite TV, room service, shopping mall, cinema, Starbucks halfway-point-reward! I think getting away from the clinic on the weekends is going to be extremely important if I’m going to make it through these two months. My only regret is not stocking my I-Pod with a few more audio books and not downloading a few more episodes of some shows to watch. But, who comes all this way for an experience like this and wishes they had episodes of The Big Bang Theory to watch? Sometimes I want to slap myself after having a thought like that. I do however have the complete seven season collection of Star Trek: The Next Generation that I could always watch.

Bukit Lawang

This is where I go when I "go into town."

It’s Not All Bad Here in Northern Sumatra

And now the good stuff. It’s not all bad here in Northern Sumatra. In fact, even as I write this I can roll my eyes at the previous two paragraphs of me whining and complaining about exactly what I set out for myself. I feel better after my venting session though so thank you for reading! As for the heat, there is a refreshing river to cool off in after my finger nail infection heals. When I step out onto the balcony of the clinic I’m smacked in the face with a misty jungle canopy and the back drop of rainforest mountains. The sounds of crickets and other jungle creatures are enough white noise to keep me asleep if I can battle the heat and actually fall asleep. Bukit Lawang is still as beautiful as it was when I first came in February and the people are just as genuinely pleasant to be around. Last night I made a point to go into town and find all my old friends I made when I was here. A few of them are still around but some have left. My Indonesian teacher Ria is a tiny little ball of happiness but is no longer waitressing the restaurant I used to frequent and according to her good friend Yanti, she is living about 25 kms outside of Bukit Lawang. I have to get in touch with her because she was a lot of fun to be around and taught me almost everything I know of Bahasa Indonesian.

I’m sort of a rock star when I walk around here. That may have had something to do with why I came back. Everywhere I go I get waves from children and adults. “Hello!!!”, “Hi Mister!” Everyone wants to talk to me and I don’t mind stopping for a few minutes to chat. Eventually I’ll have to brush some people off as I can’t possibly stop for everyone but in an area that doesn’t see as many tourists as other parts of South East Asia, I’m still a novelty. It’s pretty refreshing.

All-in-all I’m keeping my head up and taking this challenge head on. I’m currently back at the clinic and found that the balcony outside of the living areas is much cooler than inside the building so I may be spending a lot of time here, reading, writing, lesson planning and listening to music. I should get plenty of blogging done, I don’t think the teaching and planning is going to take up too much of my time so look for more regular blog updates for aw

TESOL Certified! (TEFL International)

I completely forgot to update the blog with the news that I completed my TEFL course and received my certificate to teach English as a second or other language (TESOL). This is a big milestone in becoming an ESL teacher around the world.

TEFL International has been great. The head trainer was a Florida boy like myself and born in New York with Italian ancestry. He’s the same age as me but started out his teaching 5 years ago and has made amazing strides. His personality and delivery of lessons was engaging and definitely the best part of the course itself. The 120 hour course doesn’t necessarily provide you with the practical tools needed to be an ESL teacher. The trainer’s job is to get the trainees comfortable and compotent as English teachers and I feel that was accomplished in my eyes. It isn’t that a certification is required to teach all the time but it opens the door to more countries, higher pay and an edge on my resume with competitive jobs.

The other really great thing about the course was the friends that I made. Dave and Gareth, both from England were together most of the time on the course and really pushed each other to succeed. These are friends that I’ll have for a life time and we made it a point to make sure we stay in contact. Then there was Derek, the 77 yr old Englishman who fit right in with us. His stories were amazing and he is a true English gentleman. I’m going miss all 3 of them and look forward to a reunion somewhere in Asia.



If I had one complaint about the course it might be the facilities themselves. They were moving out of the building we were staying in and into a new location and as the last residents they probably weren’t too concerned with fixing pipes or broken appliances. That being said, most of us on the course just sucked it up and dealt with it.

Again, in a practical sense, not a whole lot can be taken away from this course. I wasn’t provided with specific directions on how to lesson plan or what day to day life as an ESL teacher will bring. That will only come with experience and research on my own. There were several quotes posted around the classroom and two stood out in particular for me.

“A good teacher always knows what to do.” and “Sort it out!”

To me, these quotes basically mean, no matter what the situation, whether it be a mistake made by someone else that you have to a fix, or a problem you create yourself, it is up to you to take care of it yourself. Sort it out! Ultimately, it will always be up to me to make sure something gets done, even if the fact is true that someone else dropped the ball or there are issues out of my control. These are quotes that can translate into almost any profession or part of life. Don’t blame other people. Sort it out. Figure out what you have to do.

So, the next step is landing back on the island of Sumatra on Tuesday and begin my life as an ESL teacher with a 2 month volunteer contract in the town of Bukit Lawang. Here we go!

I got my first teaching gig!

I’m 3/4 of the way through my TEFL certification course and I’ve secured my first teaching position. It started back in February when I was in Sumatra in the tourist town of Bukit Lawang, Indonesia. I did the 2 day jungle trek and really enjoyed the time spent along the river and near the jungle. It was peaceful, quiet and I could fall asleep to the low roar of the Bohorok River. Mosquitos are not a big issue and the slightly elevated and hilly location means there is always a cool breeze in the evenings to make sleep comfortable. The people were friendly and welcoming and I left some people behind with the promise that I would return someday. A few days later while in Lake Toba, about 8 hours away, I started looking for teaching jobs online. The first hit I got was an English school that is looking for British teachers to come in on 2 month contracts. I emailed them and got a response within a few days. I filled out my application, told them I have no teaching experience, answered their questions about my ability to adapt to different cultures and waited for a response.

I got a very positive response from their offices in the UK saying they’d like to do a Skype interview. I set that up a few days ago and during the interview was offered the position. My prior travels to Sumatra and other conservative Muslim parts of the world was what set me apart. It was a nice feeling because it was one of the justifications I’ve always had for doing heavy travel to parts of the world that are off the beaten path. They sent me a teachers packet and gave me a couple of days to confirm.

Teaching in Rayong, Thailand

Teaching in Rayong, Thailand

The packet was a bit daunting. It went through their expectations of the teachers, some welcoming information and a bit of the schedule. The village I’ll be teaching in is about 10 minutes away from Bukit Lawang itself. My first duty is to introduce myself to the head of the village and register my arrival within the first 2 days. Accommodation will be very basic. I’m still working out the details of my schedule. I know for a fact I’ll be working Mon-Thurs but I’m confused on what times my classes will be. I know I’ll be teaching 9-11 yr olds in one session and then adults at university level in the evenings. I’ll have Friday, Saturday and Sunday to myself. For the young ones, their English is very basic so I’ll have my work cut out for me. Going to have to figure out some fun activities to keep their interest going. They said they want me to incorporate ecology and the geography of their part of the world in it so I’m going to have to do some research on Sumatra and orangutan preservation. With the adults it’ll basically be about finding ways to come up with conversation topics. Their English is intermediate to advanced and just need someone to speak native English with.

The contract begins May 1st but there is no way I can get there by then. My course ends next Friday and the earliest I can fly out is Tuesday the 3rd. I’ll arrive in Medan in the evening and then the following morning take the 4 hour bus ride to the village.

It’s on! What happens after the 2 months is over is still up in there air.

TEFL Certification Day 14 & 15: Practice Practice Practice

I had my second and third days of teaching practice this week. Tuesday was better than my first day and I’ve gotten some nice praise from the trainers. This morning I was a bit off my game but apparently it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Internally I was more nervous. I made a slight mistake at the beginning in a structured lesson and then it threw me off. I regained myself and finished the lesson well. The students are so much fun to interact with. We’re struggling though, because it’s school break right now so they are having a hard time finding students to volunteer to come in. Some of the ones that do come in are really young and a just bodies in the seat. They are too young for the lessons and then become distractions. The ones that the lessons are age appropriate for really seem to enjoy it. It drags pretty hard towards the end of the 4 hours.

I had the unfortunate or fortunate task to go on in the fourth hour yesterday after some of the students just heard the same exact lesson. It was up to me to try to find a way to engage them. I did the best I could with gesturing since my chalk board skills are pretty bad. It’s one thing I really need to work on. Although, most schools will probably have white boards anyway. If you go on fourth you get all the trainers watching, all of your classmates and both classes combined. I found it better this way as having more students feels natural. I’m not afraid of the trainers because they both give really good feedback and I’d rather get truth from them than not know what I’m doing.

I’m really beat and just realized that I feel like I’m not putting a very good blog post together here so I’m going to go to bed. I have super exciting news but I want to wait till tomorrow to share it.

TEFL Certification Day 12 & 13: First Teaching Practice

Today was my first day in the classroom teaching. I imagined this day ever since I signed up for this course. I used to break into a sweat just thinking about having a students staring at me while I teach them. The course has gone very smoothly up till this point and I’ve come a long way in building confidence over the last 3.5 years.

We spent the weekend working on our lesson plans when we weren’t out celebrating Songkran. We left around 8am for the city of Rayong which is about a half hour away. Thai schools are on break right now until mid-May so finding volunteers to come to the school as students was difficult. We had a very small class. There were 8 students total split between two classrooms. In glorious Joey style, my high confidence entering into the classroom was shattered when someone pointed out that I had torn a hole in the crotch of my pants. Theses pants were just purchased a few days ago after a long evening hunting for a mall in Rayong. I made a quick attempt to use a safety pin to secure the hole but my efforts were fruitless. I just went for it. I adjusted myself as well as I could before hand and went first.

Teaching a student monk!

The lesson was over before I knew it. One hour flies by when you’re up there. All weekend I’ve been practicing writing and drawing on a white board only to end up using a chalkboard at the school. I broke 4 pieces of chalk in a matter of 5 minutes but eventually got the feel for it. The classroom was pretty hot, as there is no central A/C. The school is outside of Rayong a bit, in a smaller village. It wasn’t comfortable but it’s more typical than getting to work in a fancy school in the big city. There is always a chance I could end up at a school like this.

Overall my lesson went really well. The trainer had high praise for me and even went as far as saying it was one of the best first lessons he’s seen. Whether or not that is true, who knows but I felt good up there and only had a few issues with my rate of speech. My preparation and planning paid off and I go back in tomorrow morning and do it all again. For the next 2 weeks there will be lesson planning in the afternoon at night and then teaching the following morning.

Here we go!

TEFL Certification Day 10 & 11: Learning About Being a Teacher

I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to try the teaching thing out. I spent the better part of a decade strapped to a headset and stuck in a cubicle so it was about time I freed myself from those confines and got involved in a job that a bit more rewarding. The course is going really well so far and I keep getting more and more eager to get in the classroom and start teaching.

Tomorrow we observe one of the trainers do the same lesson we’re going to be teaching next week. This was the final week of lectures and note taking. Now, it’s all about being in the classroom and teaching.

After the grammar on Monday and Tuesday we started going over classroom management and strategies. We’ve already learned a lot about what it means to be a teacher in Thailand. There is a high social status that comes along with the title of teacher here that you just don’t get in America. In terms of social status you have the King first, then the royal family, monks and then teachers. Even elders would technically be below me on the social scale. This is important to remember when “wai” ing in Thailand. Wai is the common Buddhist greeting where hands are clasped and placed at different levels depending on the status of the person you are wai’ing. I technically wouldn’t be expected to wai an elder or senior if they knew I was a teacher. This is weird to me and the idea of having someone older than me showing me a higher respect would be difficult to get used to.

There are a lot of differences between western classrooms and eastern. There are even further differences specifically for Thailand. For instance, technically, as a teacher we are allowed to hit students. We were told very clearly never to do this as foreign teachers because the discipline doesn’t mean the same coming from us rather than their native teachers. There are sticks just like in Catholic schools of past generations, that can be used to slap on the hand. In addition there are a lot of subtle differences such as avoiding prolonged eye contact with students, giving a lot of personal space and the idea of not singling out any students for poor performance to avoid them losing face with others in the class. Group work is preferred by students as Thai’s are generally communal when it comes to learning. This is a big difference from American culture since I don’t know any students in college that actually enjoy group activities.

Right now it is Friday night, right in the middle of Songkran, the Thai New Year. I will do a write up on Songkran which is an unbelievable event in Thailand once a year in April where the entire country shuts down for a water festival to ring in the New Year. Until that update, have a good weekend and I’ll talk to you soon. Time to go have some fun!

I teach my first class at 9am on Monday morning. This means actual students and an actually lesson plan. :) Finally!

TEFL Certification Day 8 & 9 : Grammar Sucks!

Monday and Tuesday were spent in the classroom studying grammar. There is absolutely nothing fun to write about it. It is a necessary evil. Grammar isn’t extremely important in teaching English to foreign learners because their native teachers usually take care of that and I’ll be there for more speech and writing reinforcement. But, as we learned over the last two days, having some ability and a quick refresher from grade school doesn’t hurt. It was evil of the trainer to start it Monday morning but it’s over now and it’s Wednesday, the start of the water festival.

TEFL Certification Day 6 & 7: Student Monks

It’s now Monday and the first week of the course is completed. So far things are going far better than I expected. My confidence is through the roof and I have the itch to start teaching already. I enjoy standing up in front of my peers practicing and can’t wait to get more practice when the actual lessons begin.

Thursday was our first contact with students. Our goal was to spend an hour with student monks at a local school in order to get them comfortable and talking to us so that we could return Friday and record a short speech sample. We arrived at the school after a couple hours of planning what we were going to do. The students were standing towards the back of the classrooms and we chose seats. Then whomever’s seat we sat in would come and join us. I sat with a 14 yr old boy named Win. He was the smallest of the students as well as one of the shyest. It took 10-15 minutes to get him to speak to me and even then his answers to my questions were short. We were warned that the first day would be difficult as the students are usually too shy to open up but some of my other classmates had no problem. Their reading and writing levels were all different. Win was very good at writing and I suspected he was also better at speaking than he led on.

I interviewed him on his family and his daily schedule which were not a lot fun for him to talk about but when we moved on to animals he opened up much more. I got more comfortable as the hour went on so I think he fed off of that. I would ask him about different animals and then do one of my world famous imitations to get him to smile. The hour flew by and before I knew it we were saying goodbye. I told him I would see him again tomorrow and we were off.

The next day we spent the morning learning about culture shock and then in the afternoon we planned our second hour with our students. This time we were meant to have a more open discussion with them in order to get a recorded sample of their speech. I was worried about this because Win was very shy and his replies to my questions were usually one word answers and he didn’t understand me when I tried to explain that I needed full sentences from him. When I first got there I was much more comfortable and started rolling right away. Win took some time to get back into it. Since he wasn’t really answering questions with full sentences and I needed a large speech sample, I decided to write down what he should reply with if I ask him certain questions.

For example:

Teacher: What is your birthday?
Student: August 12 (he really does share my birthday!)
Teacher: OK, so you would say, “My birthday is August 12th.”
Student: no response

Then I would write down what I wanted him to say, point to the words and use gestures that I wanted him to speak. I modeled that for him a couple of times and then eventually he picked it up on his own and I wouldn’t have to ask him to read it. I’m giving you this much detail because this was the first moment I felt like I actually taught something and it felt really good to model for a student and then have him pick up what I meant for him to do. And on top of that he continued doing it with out me having to ask him. It was kind of an, “OH! Maybe I can do this!” moment.

After I gathered enough information we both went over to the tape recorder where I asked him the questions again and had him respond. He read a couple of paragraphs as well and responded to questions about them. He was very soft spoken but he read really well. He only stumbled on certain words but we were instructed not to correct spoken language. This is true for anytime I will be in the classroom.

My first session with a student was successful. There wasn’t too much writing to do about it so I finished my assignments for the weekends right away and had the weekend to myself. It was relaxing. Now it’s back to the grind and this week starts off with a load of grammar.