Protests outside U.S. Consulate in Medan, Indonesia

It has been awhile since I’ve posted. I’ve been busy with teaching and just life in general in Medan. Just want to give some information for anyone who has found my blog through searches about the situation here. I do not think the media has been showing the reality of the protests. It is such a small number of people gathered around the consult to protest the anti-Islam video that was posted on YouTube by an American and then later translated into Arabic by an Egyptian and shown throughout the Arab world. There are 250 million people in Indonesia and 200 million which are Muslims. A total of about 250 people showed up today at the consulate in Medan to protest via flag burning and speech. While I do not agree with the rhetoric, they do have a right to express their opinion. This however, does not excuse the violence that has occurred in other parts of Indonesia, especially Jakarta and Makassar. But, among the many protesters throughout Indonesia only a very small handful have turned to violence.

Perspective needs to be shown here. If you were to zoom out on any of the number of scenes that the media is feeding the public you would see how insignificant the protests are. Again, I’m not excusing the violence that has been going on but by the sheer number of people living in Indonesia, they are in no way represented by the acts of these few.


Indonesians burn American flag outside US Consulate in Medan to protest anti-Muslim film

MEDAN, Indonesia – Indonesians continue to protest an anti-Islam film, torching an American flag and tires outside the U.S. Consulate in the country’s third largest city of Medan.
About 200 people from various Islamic groups gathered Tuesday. Some unfurled banners saying, “Go to Hell America,” while others trampled on dozens of paper flags in North Sumatra’s provincial capital.
They demanded that Washington punish those involved in the privately produced American-made film “Innocence of Muslims,” which ridicules Islam and depicts the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a pedophile.
On Monday, violence erupted outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta when hundreds of protesters mostly from hardliner Islamic groups gathered. Some hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails in the first violent demonstrations over the film in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.

A look back on 2011 and ahead to 2012

The last couple of years have been some of the best of my life so far. 2010 saw the completion of my BA from University, my 30th birthday and the breaking free of a job I didn’t like but kept at for the entire decade. I managed to complete my degree in the amount of time I planned once I decided to go back in 2007.

2011 was even better but for different reasons. I set off in January around the world on an adventurous trip through the Horn of Africa and a Middle East journey that fell short due to the Arab revolutions early in the year. I got my TEFL certification in Thailand and did some volunteer work before settling down in Sumatra. I wrote a post back in 2010 trying to predict where I’d end up living this year and Medan, Indonesia wasn’t even a place I knew anything about other than it was a port city in Sumatra. Now here I am finishing my first full year abroad and just getting going!

Here is a look back at some of the things I’ve accomplished and planned to accomplish but fell short as well as an outlook for 2012. Enjoy!

Things I set out to do in 2011…and did

Learn to iron
Learn to tie a tie
Learn another language (in progress)
Learn to play the guitar (in progress)
Live abroad
Drive a motorbike
Get TEFL certified
Become a teacher
Travel to Somalia (Somaliland)
Travel to the Middle East (Lebanon)

Things I didn’t specifically set out to do but happy I did
Live somewhere that I can see mountains from my house
Have an article written about me by ABC News
Volunteer in a small village
Cut back immensely on drinking alcohol
Lost 35 lbs (15 kg)
Have a proper party week in Thailand with old friends
Motorbike road trip through Northern Sumatra

Things I wanted to do but didn’t do
Learn to cook
Live completely alone

Goals for 2012
Have a close friend or family member visit me
Learn to cook
Return to the U.S. at the end of 2012
Survive the end of the world
Get to see one of my best friends get married
Travel to a nearby country
Visit Java, Komodo or Flores

Some of my favorite photos of 2011

INDONESIA

Banda Aceh

Grand Mosque at Banda Aceh

Bukit Lawang

Orangutan in Bukit Lawang

Samosir Island

Batak children on Samosir in Lake Toba

THAILAND

TEFL Course

Getting into it during teacher practice at TEFL International

Royal Temple Bangkok

Royal Temple, Bangkok

LEBANON

Baalbek

Baalbek

MALAYSIA

Petronas Towers

Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur

SOMALILAND

Somaliland

Somaliland

Somaliland

Tank leftover from the Somalian civil war

Berber

Camels grazing on the beach along the Gulf of Aden

ETHIOPIA

Harar

Hand and mouth feeding of hyenas outside of Harar

North Sumatra Road Trip

Map North Sumatra Lake Toba

Blue line indicates the route with a one night stopover in Beratagi

In about 7 hours me and a couple of mates are going to head south out of Medan for Lake Toba for a week-long road trip through North Sumatra. I plan on leaving the laptop at home. The camera will be with me but it’s unlikely I’ll be making any posts before I come back.

One of the biggest reasons for moving to Medan to teach English was that there is easy access to amazing places for short holidays. Christmas break is here, classes ended last Friday and the next 8 days will be spent driving our motorbikes through the Karo highlands of north Sumatra.

We set out first for the city of Brastagi which is overlooked by Mt. Sinabung. This volcano hadn’t erupted since the year 1600 but in 2010 it woke up from its long sleep with quite the fury. It erupted several times in a few months and is now quite active. We plan on resting one night here and then on to Lake Toba on Tuesday morning.

The three of us will be taking our time meandering slowly through the mountains. The journey by bus from Medan would normally take about 5 hours but we plan on spreading that over a couple of days by stopping in small villages along the way.

Samosir

Samosir Island on Lake Toba

It’s easy to forget just why we moved to North Sumatra to begin with. Medan is a big bustling city with lots of shouting locals, traffic jams and pollution. It’s important that we make it out of town as often as we can to recharge and get up close with the locals who welcomed us when we first arrived.

Northern Sumatra already doesn’t get the tourists that other places of South East Asia get. On top of this, we’re taking a route rarely traveled by foreign tourists south through the mountains. We’ll get to come across adults who rarely have seen foreigners pass through their villages and children who may have never seen a white person before. Of course this means we might have to veer even further off the main road but we’ve all agreed that we’re going to wing it… play it by ear… and see where the road takes us.

I told myself I want to try at least 10 new things this week. Horse milk? Monitor lizard? What else? Things that are taboo back home can be quite normal in these parts but I’ll talk more about that later.

We’ll end our journey in Lake Toba on the island of Samosir. I was there earlier in 2011 but this time I’ll have my own bike giving me the freedom to move about, as well as a pretty decent handling of the Indonesian language. The lake itself is about the size of Singapore and it forms the cauldron of an ancient and massive super volcano. If you look at the map you can see how all of the North Sumatra province builds in elevation until the lake a the top. The island in the middle is Samosir which was formed after the last great eruption 75,000 years ago. There are hot springs on the island where we plan on doing some swimming. The island has since been inhabitant predominantly by ethnic Batak Tobanese people who practice Catholicism and animalism. This is in stark contrast to the roughly 86% Muslim population of Indonesia.

So, it’s off to bed now, a big day tomorrow.

Christopher Hitchens: Intellect & Realist

I’ve only had two heroes during my adult life. While Captain Jean-Luc Picard will never die and can always live on through replays of Star Trek: The Next Generation, my other hero, Christopher Hitchens, has died of esophageal cancer at the age of 62. However, he too can live on forever through his words. He so eloquently illustrated this when asked why he would not want to believe in a God and heaven which would allow him to one day meet William Shakespeare. His response was, “The only reason I might even want to meet Shakespeare is because I can meet him anytime because he is immortal in the works left behind. If you’ve read those, meeting the author [in heaven] might certainly be a disappointment.”

"Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it."

That’s just one of the many examples of the inspiring and thought provoking statements from Hitchens. Luckily I live in a time where access to debates, speeches and documentaries is possible on Youtube at any hour of the day. (Hopefully it stays this way… who knows given the new internet censorship legislation that has recently passed under the Obama administration) Around the middle of last year I was turned on to Hitchens through debates on religion and anti-theism scattered throughout the internet. I never looked back. I was drawn into his speaking style. He is direct and often harsh but he never speaks just for the sake of a reaction. His provocative attacks against beloved public figures such as Dalai Lama and Pope Benedict XVI are always grounded in truth. I don’t agree with everything he has said and that’s just the thing that made him such a good writer and speaker. He urged people to always question, always doubt and always challenge what is accepted as “right,” even if it meant disagreeing with him. This is all done without the need for baseless conspiracy theories or ad-hominem attacks (although he occasionally straddled this line.)

I’ve strayed a long way from the Church since my adolescence and there had always been a discomfort within me, but Christopher Hitchens, through his books and debates, has helped open my eyes. I might not go as far as he would in saying that there is nothing good that can come of religion but he has argued over and over that any good acts that might come in the name of religion are not born of the religion itself but rather the innate goodness in humans to work together to survive as a species. When faced with the argument from theists of where our morality comes from, if not from God, he asks how would Moses have made it to the top of Mount Sinai to receive the ten commandments without roughly 100,000 years of modern humans working together and having a strong moral code built within. Did we really learn the right way to live that late in our development as modern humans?

Like him or dislike him, Christopher Hitchens made you think. I never really understood why he would agree to go on shows debating hacks on cable news networks such as CNN and Fox News. I guess everyone has to sell a book sometimes. His lowest points for me were when he was engaged in debate with people who were clearly intellectually inferior. It’s similar to Richard Dawkins having a debate about religion with Bill O’Reilly. It just ends up making the more intellectual of the two look like a bully and in the end no side has really said anything meaningful.

What was also very inspiring about Christopher Hitchens was his ability to blur political party lines. People on both sides, republicans and democrats, would always try to claim him for themselves but being along any party line is impossible if you truly think for yourself. Being a free thinker doesn’t mean identifying with the republican party, going down the check-list and forming your system of beliefs based off of what is expected of you as a republican. He has liberal beliefs in some aspects and conservative beliefs in others.

For now though, I’ll pour a glass of Johnny Walker Black Label scotch on the rocks while I finish up this entry and then watch a few Hitchens videos. According to him Black Label is the best valued scotch the world has to offer and he often would tell people this who asked. This day was coming. The man hit the booze and cigarettes hard his whole life. I’m glad I found out about him when I did because he’s opened up my eyes. He has always been a champion of realism, honest debate and intellectualism. For that I thank him and the world has lost a great mind today.

Anderson Cooper: “You said you burned the candle at both ends”

Christopher Hitchens: “And it gave a lovely light…”

The day I found the pizza I was looking for…

It has taken a long time but I’ve finally found pizza in South East Asia that at the very least, does the job. I won’t begin to try and convince you that this holds up to American standards as far as pizza goes but it’s by far the best pizza in Medan that I’ve found and definitely the best pizza I’ve had in South East Asia.

pizza Indonesia

It could stand to be bigger. An 18 inch pie would work better

The key is simplicity. So many pizza places try too hard. I think they are going after the Italian Neapolitan style which IS the original however I’ve grown accustomed to the thinner sliced New York style pizza with cheese, sauce and crust with a bit of oregano. They had crushed red peppers and Parmesan cheese and the only thing missing was some garlic powder. (Luckily my mom sent me some from home so I can always bring that along in my pocket)

Out of the three main parts of the pizza the crust is the weakest. It’s tough to get that right apparently because even back home the crust is usually what pizza places screw up the easiest. I’m not sure what they’ve done with the sauce because there is usually this very typical sweet flavor of all red sauce here in South East Asia. They must have not included too much sugar because the sauce does its job. It adds flavor but doesn’t over power. Then finally the cheese. It’s not perfect but again, it doesn’t over power the rest of the pizza. You can still tell it’s not the real deal but there is not too much of any one ingredient causing the pizza to taste funny. It’s just the right amount so that the sauce, the cheese and the crust work together to make a very tasty pizza.

So there it is, if you’re living in Medan or just passing through check out Pisa Cafe which is joined with M Box Karaoke on Jln. Thamrin in Medan, Indonesia. (just down the street from Thamrin Plaza)

Food Friday: Rendang

There are few foods in this world that make my tongue dance the minute it touches them. Back home in the United States it’s definitely a nice thin slice of New York style pizza and maybe BBQ pork doused in delicious sweet sauce. As far as international cuisine, there is green curry chicken in Thailand and flour tortillas dipped in hot white Mexican cheese. (Although I suspect that is more of a Tex-Mex thing) Alfredo sauce just about rounds out all of my favorite foods in this world.

Rendang

Ren-DAAANG!

Indonesia doesn’t have the most internationally renowned food in the world but there is one item that is the monster of all dishes here, and it’s rendang.

Like most of the good food in Indonesia, rendeng comes from the province of West Sumatra and the Minangkabau people in and around Padang and Bukit Tinggi. I think rendang is an acquired taste as the first few times I ate it I wasn’t sure of the hype around it. It takes a few times to really understand the flavor.

Rendang is slow cooked much like a pot roast and seasoned with all kinds of different spices such as lemon grass, chillies, or ginger and made with coconut milk. It’s most commonly made with beef but rendang is also made with chicken and duck.

Also like other Indonesian dishes it doesn’t look like much to the eye. Prepared, as usual, on banana leaves it’s widely available throughout Medan. The best I’ve had so far is at a small warung (small restaurant) near my house. I plan to try several more locations. It’s often quite spicy but not so much that it takes away from the flavor.

If you’re in Indonesia try to break away from the common menu items in the tourist restaurants such as mie and nasi goreng and hit up a food stall that has rendang. I noticed rendang isn’t often on the guest house menus around North Sumatra possibly due to it’s degree of difficulty in cooking.

It’s easily my favorite food now over ayam bakar. Don’t come to Indonesia with out trying it.

ESL Game: Scattergories

This is one of my favorite games from back home. If it is fun for 20 and 30 somethings to do on a Friday night it’s sure to hold the interest of ESL students. I’m still trying to find ways to make a variant of the game myself but the version I play in the classroom is pretty much the same as the Milton Bradly game of the same name.

I’ve started out with 10 very simple categories.

1. Colors
2. Fruits
3. Drinks
4. Vegetables
5. Sports/Hobbies
6. Past tense verbs
7. Adjectives
8. Countries
9. Cities
10. Subjects in school

I have students call out a page number from the text book and use the first letter on that page as the letter for each round. So for example, the first letter is T then the students have 3 minutes to fill out the list 1-10 using words that start with the letter T. The object is to score points by using a word that no other team uses. For example: The categories is countries so team 1 writes Thailand, team 2 writes Turkmenistan and team 3 writes Thailand. Team 2 gets one point for writing Turkmenistan a word no one else used while the other 2 teams get no points. (This example just happened in class and I was impressed the students knew Turkmenistan)

Scattegories as an ESL game

Made for adults but fun for students

The good thing about this game is that it encourages students to think of uncommon vocabulary rather than the easy stuff. I usually play 3 rounds with 3 different letters and then the team with the most points wins. It’s a good go to game if you need to fill time at the end of a lesson after going through the material. The first few classes I played this with really to enjoyed it. It seems to work best with the older students and they have a fun time trying to figure out the tougher ones. The best part about the game is that with one list of categories you can play many times and not have the same letter so it doesn’t get boring.

Eventually I’ll make up lists with more complicated categories and will probably steal from the board game itself. Other examples include:

Intermediate
Things found in the classroom
Things at a picnic
Things found at the beach
Things that use a motor
Past continuous verbs- ex: “was reading” for “R”

Even more difficult
Prepositions
Names of athletes
Capital cities
Bodies of water
Western musicians

Food Friday: Nasi/Mie Goreng

Nasi goreng and Mie goreng are considered national dishes of Indonesia. Nasi = rice mie = noodles and goreng means fried. So, it’s simple, fried rice and fried noodles. This is the first food that people usually try when arriving here because it’s simple and recognizable. Usually wrapped in a banana leaf from street stalls, it’s cheap and usually delicious. Specify if you want it spicy, “pedas” or not spicy, “tidak pedas.” It’s also accompanied by a few cucumber slices and nasi goreng special is with a fried egg and ayam (chicken).

Nasi Goreng Ayam

Nasi Goreng Ayam

I usually ask for “tidak pakai telur” (with out egg) as I’m not too fond of fried eggs in Indonesia. Eggs are usually a breakfast thing for me. If you ask a westerner living here or a tourist passing through they’d probably say you can’t go wrong with nasi/mie goreng but to Indonesians it’s a simple meal that can be cooked improperly. I’ve heard on several occasions, Indonesians saying that the nasi goreng they just ate was terrible.

Halloween activity for ESL classrooms

The Horror: Scary Movie Night
Halloween is my first major holiday as an ESL teacher. The student’s knowledge of the holiday is limited as Indonesia doesn’t celebrate it and only English language schools hold any sort of activity for the holiday. My school did a horror movie night for the students. I was quite surprised at the choice in movies. It was a Thai movie rated PG-13 and we had some students that were quite young. My more conservative, U.S. raised self kept thinking how stupid it was to show the kids this movie but then when I looked around the room at the young children closing their eyes and then bursting out in laughter when they get spooked, I thought to myself, no this is what Halloween is about… getting scared. If they watch some corny children’s Halloween movie that isn’t going to leave any lasting impression. Some my most vivid memories from childhood are from watching scary movies that were meant for people much older. The only bad part about this movie was that the subtitles were translated from Thai into Indonesian and then into English. This made for terrible grammar at the bottom of the screen. Even my students recognized how bad it was, which is a good sign that they have a pretty good grasp of grammar and the arrangement of the words to make coherent sentences.

Scary Horror Movie ESL Activity

Said scary movie. The Thai writing makes it even that much scarier.

Halloween Crossword
On to my quick ESL activity. This doesn’t have to be for Halloween but you can use a theme anytime you want. At my school there are guidelines to follow for lessons that must be completed by the end of the term. Depending on how far along I was in the class dictated whether or not I did some of the regular lesson or not. Some of my classes have very little to do by the middle of December so I was free to take up the entire class time with fun stuff. This isn’t a very complicated activity as it was my first attempt at putting something together for a holiday. For my younger students I printed out a pretty simple Halloween crossword puzzle to take up about 10 minutes of time and then we went through it together and I elicited the answers and explained some of them in more detail. They understood most of it but words like, “tombstone” and “mummy” needed more explanation.

Halloween Crossword ESL

We talked a bit about trick or treating and some of the students already knew what it was and a few were in shock as another student explained the wonder that is dressing up in a costume and going door to door collecting candy. I really feel bad telling them about Halloween and seeing how disappointed they feel when they can’t enjoy the same thing here.

Halloween Word Find Game
While the students were doing their crossword I was busy setting up the whiteboard for the Word Find game. I drew a few Halloween pictures on the board, including a jack-o-lantern. Then I wrote some of the rules to the game on the board.

We’ve all played the Word Find game at some point in our childhood but this is my variation. You write a word on the board like, “FRANKENSTEIN.” The students then have 2 minutes to write as many words as they can make out of that word. The students get a point for each word with 3 or more letters. If they find a word that is 5 letters or more long then they get 2 points. 2 letter words are not worth any points. This works best in groups of 2-3 students. I have each team get out one sheet of paper and pen and have them share the list and add to it as they go along. I then go around and check the lists for points and leave a check mark next to the ones worth 2 points. I leave it up to the honor system for students to keep track of their points from round to round and report after each round how many points they’ve earned.

After about 2 rounds I then add an extra element to the game called, Joe’s Secret Word. I pick out a word that is at least 4-5 letters long that if they find it they get bonus points ranging from 5-10 points. This is a good way to even up the scores if one team is way ahead. It’s up to you if you want to be an honest teacher and think of the secret word before and not change it or pretend a word on the losing team’s sheet is the secret word. This works OK for the younger students as it keeps things close if one team is too dominant. The older students may catch on to your scheme. You don’t want to get caught cheating!

These are some of the words I used for the game.

FRANKENSTEIN
JACK-O-LANTERN
DRACULA (very difficult, only about 2 easy words: card, card)
MONSTER MASH! (secret word: MOTHER)
WITCH’S BREW (secret word: PINE)
HAPPY HALLOWEEN

Learning Bahasa Indonesia like a young learner

I keep telling myself that I need to sit down with a Indonesian-English dictionary and each week pick a new topic like medical, sports, food etc. and learn all the vocabulary. My laziness on picking up new words has stunted my growth a bit. I’m really good with memorization so it shouldn’t be a problem but I find it quite boring to flip through a normal dictionary.

I was at Millennium Plaza in Medan and saw a small display of English language education books for Indonesians. They were mostly color picture dictionaries for young children. They didn’t really fit what I needed because it was a bit too simplified but then I came across these two picture dictionaries that were exactly what I was looking for. It had enough vocabulary to be practical. The pictures help even as an adult.

Bahasa Indonesia Dictionary

Popular Situational Dictionary and Kamus Situasi. They each have categories ranging from city/town life, in the kitchen, bathroom, living room, bedroom, on the farm, in the workshop, at the beach as well as pages for common verbs and opposite words. It’s great to leave out on my coffee table and study. I’m going to try to pick a couple of pages to learn each week and then go back and keep trying to memorize them.

Indonesian-English picture dictionary

My housemate has been living in Indonesia for about 3 years and his Indonesian is very good right now. He can communicate effectively with people here but still needs to improve his vocabulary. We both agreed to sit down and test each other. He’ll be a great resource for me because he can answer questions that I have about the language that are difficult for Indonesians to understand. I’ll be able to keep him motivated to continue studying the language since after about 3 years I’m sure he’s hit a wall.