Don’t believe anything you see, read or hear

The Buddha in Laos

Always with wisdom

I just came across this quote this morning and thought it was worth sharing. I’m not Buddhist nor do I want to convert but there is no denying some incredibly insightful words from the Buddha.

“Don’t blindly believe what I say. Don’t believe me because others convince you of my words. Don’t believe anything you see, read, or hear from others, whether of authority, religious teachers or texts. Don’t rely on logic alone, nor speculation. Don’t infer or be deceived by appearances.”

“Do not give up your authority and follow blindly the will of others. This way will lead to only delusion.”

“Find out for yourself what is truth, what is real. Discover that there are virtuous things and there are non-virtuous things. Once you have discovered for yourself give up the bad and embrace the good.”

American Tourist Stabbed to Death in Medan

I almost considered not making a post about this because the last thing North Sumatra needs is for people to think it’s a dangerous place to visit. A few nights ago in Medan an American tourist was killed while in a becak (pedicab) on his way to his hotel from Polonia Airport. I’ve left Polonia many times by becak with my backpack and valuables in a smaller handbag, so it could have happened at anytime to me. I have always been warned to be careful of bag snatchers. This is common in just about any city in the world you visit so I always figured if it is going to happen there isn’t much I can do to prevent it other than keeping my bags close.

In this situation it looks like the American guy tried to fight back and in doing so caused his attackers to panic and stab him. I don’t think it’s common for robbers to set out with murder on their minds but when the bag snatch turns out not to be as easy as they expected then they become unpredictable. The very fact that they didn’t even run off with his bags after they stabbed him proves that they were not in the right mind during the incident.

My opinion of Medan being a safe city hasn’t changed. Again, this could have happened in any city. It is a lesson however, that when confronted by attackers it’s best to just give up your valuables and live to breathe another day.

From the article in The Jakarta Post


American Stabbed to Death in Medan
An American citizen, Samuel Hyein, 28, was stabbed late Wednesday en route to a hotel, having just left Polonia International Airport in Medan, North Sumatra.
He bled to death while being treated at Medan’s Elisabeth Hospital, due to the injury in his right leg.
North Sumatra Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Heru Prakoso said Hyein was stabbed by two strangers riding on a motorcycle, while he was in a pedicab on his way to the hotel.
“The victim had just arrived [in Medan] at 10.30 p.m. from Malaysia on an Air Asia flight,” Heru told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.
He added, “We are still trying to identify the perpetrators as well as the motives behind the stabbing, as none of his belongings were missing when the stabbing took place.”
He said three teams of detectives have been deployed to investigate the murder case.
An official from the American consulate general in North Sumatra, Kathryn Crockart, arrived to identify the victim but refused to give any comment.
“We are still awaiting the results from the police investigation, therefore we cannot make any comments yet,” the consulate general’s public affairs official, Meta Saragih, said.
Meta added that currently, they are trying to reach the victim’s family in the US.

Indonesian usage of “yang”

One of my many goals living abroad is to finally learn another language. I don’t just mean to pick up some useful phrases just to get by either. I want to become fluent to the point that I don’t have to think about what I’m going to say or translate in my head while someone is speaking. I’ve already noticed the basic to intermediate stuff sinking into my subconscious and my response time is more natural. Indonesian is a pretty easy language to pick up the basics and a lot of fun to practice with people.

Language Dictionary

I should be looking at this daily, but unfortunately it stays right there on the table.

I’ll give updates along the way as to how I’m progressing. Right now my biggest hurdle is the vocabulary. I’m learning fewer new words every day and I feel like I’m hitting a wall.

Another really difficult thing about many South East Asian languages is that there are words that don’t have any direct translation to English. One in Indonesian being, “yang.” I have been trying to master it’s usage for awhile now and I finally came across a website that does a pretty good explanation of how it can be used. Like I said previously, I don’t want to just pick up a few phrases. I really want to master the language so that I can speak it confidently and sound like a local. I feel like I have a pretty good ear for the accent and the slang so it’s important that I figure out how to use the non-translatable correctly.

Here is an excerpt: Click Here for the full article

There are several words in Indonesian that don’t have any equivalent in English and “yang” is one of those. “Yang” can mean “that is”, “who is” or “which is” and it can be used in several ways. Let’s have a look at “yang” a bit more closely.

The first use we’ll see is when “yang” emphasises a description of a noun. You’re probaby aware that you need to add the adjective (description word) after the noun in Indonesian. For example, to say “new car” you’d use “mobil baru” – literally “car new”.

You can use “yang” to emphasise the description of the car by saying “mobil yang baru” or “car that is new”. This phrase is very slightly different from “new car” because it emphasises that the car is new.

There are many other words in Indonesian that are untranslatable but I’m going to start with mastering “yang.” I have to really stay focused on vocabulary as it’s easy to become lazy. I think part of the reason I’ve slowed down on the learning process is that I’ve been working for 2 months and I have to use English while at the school. Also, the more busy I am with teaching and planning the less likely I’m out with Indonesians practicing.

Food Fridays: Dendeng

Food Fridays
When I ask Indonesians what different areas of their country are famous for they usually say Jakarta is fashion and Bali is for tourists. But Medan, while not the most aestetically pleasing city in Indonesia, is almost always synonymous with food. Whether it’s someone from Java or Kalimantan most Indonesians agree that Medan is a culinary paradise. It’s got its own styles and takes on other Indonesian dishes and along with Padang it makes Sumatra a great place to try real traditional Indonesian food. That’s why I’ve started to share some of the food I am eating in what I’ll call Food Fridays! A couple of weeks ago it was Sate Padang.

Dendeng
I went to a spot that my roommate suggested a few weeks back. Normally, I would get a famous Indonesian dish called rendeng but tonight it was “habis” or finished! He gave me dendeng instead. Dendeng is thin sliced pieces of dried meat. It isn’t that different from what most of us know as jerky. It’s tough and chewy but pretty delicious. In the style found here it’s usually covered in a red chili sauce and served with rice and vegetables. This is another specialty from Padang, West Sumatra. It’s not nearly my favorite thing to eat in Medan but it’s nice every now and then.

Indonesian food Dendeng

It doesn't look like much... and it's not

ESL Introduction Activity for New Teachers

This is an activity I found online and just tweaked it for my own liking. It’s generally called “10 Things.” On your first day of classes when you are the new teacher or you have new students coming in who don’t know you yet this is a good way to start things off.

10 Things About Me
Depending on the age of the students I may have a little fun drawing a silly stick figure version of me. The younger students really get a laugh when I draw my stick figure and then do the same pose myself. I think it’s important for the students to know it’s OK to have a laugh in class and that their teacher isn’t going to bore them. In a few of my classes I drew the stick figure, introduced the stick figure as their real teacher and pretended to walk out of class. It lightens the mood right from the beginning and gets rid of a lot of the anxiety the new students or the teacher may feel.

New Teacher

Good morning students, this is your teacher.

Then I write 10 things about myself that are answers to a question that I want the students to ask me. I usally start with drawing the American flag and then a few easy ones like pizza, blue, and 31. Where are you from? What is your favorite food and color? And, how old are you? Then I try to throw in a few tricky ones like my last name which gives me a chance to explain to the students how Americans say “last name” but “surname” and “family name” are also acceptable. I write a few cryptic ones like just the words “No” and “Not yet!” Do you have a girlfriend? (No!) Are you married? (Not yet) The students here get a kick out of it when I write “ayam bakar.” What is your favorite food in Indonesia?

This is a great way to start out the class because it’s a way to introduce yourself without standing there in front of them doing a monologue about your life.

When they ask you a question and you answer just cross it off. When you’re finished the activity can either end there or you can give the students a turn. What I did was ask each student to take a sheet of paper out and write 5 things about themselves in the same fashion. I ask them to do a few simple ones and maybe 1-2 tricky answers. Then I randomly pick a few out and write their words on the board. Now I get the students to start asking each other.

It’s a lot of fun but make sure you give students other ideas for things they can put down. They get bored with asking their classmates what their favorite color is so really put an emphasis on a few tricky ones to get the class involved in trying to figure it out.

If it’s a large class I just do a few but if it’s 5 or less I’ll try and get through all of them. So far all the classes seemed to like it and by the end they got to know me. When I saw one of my classes for the second time and walked in a few of the students yelled “AYAM BAKAR!!!”

Live Now, Make Now the Most Precious Time

One of my favorite quotes is from an episode of Star Trek the Next Generation called the Inner Light. Captain Picard was knocked unconscious by a probe sent by a long extinct alien civilization with the purpose of downloading an entire lifetime of memories into his mind that he would experience in a mere 20 minutes so that the civilization could live on and not be forgotten. He spoke these words to his daughter:

“Live now. Make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again.”

They’re words that I have tried to live by even before watching the episode. I know that there will be a time when I’m older and looking back on life wishing I had done more even though I’m accomplishing much of what I’ve always wanted to do. Life is obviously short. I’m in my early 30’s and as quick as it seems to be moving along I know it will only get quicker.

Why am I discussing all of this right now? Well, it’s just a big giant excuse for me not updating my blog much lately. I’m living. I’ve been having some great experiences with my job starting here in Medan. At different times since 2010 I have reached milestones and achieved small goals that I set out for. I knew that once I graduated in August of last year it was going to be a roller coaster ride. First with turning 30, then quitting my debt collections job, then leaving home, then traveling off the beaten path in Somaliland, then getting my TEFL certification in Thailand, then volunteering in Bukit Lawang and then finally settling down in Medan to teach English in Indonesia. The journey is far from over but I can say with confidence I’ve landed and I’m ready to see where this takes me.

I’m a Teacher Now

While I was in Bukit Lawang and doing volunteer teaching I couldn’t help but feel like I hadn’t quite become a teacher yet. It was a great learning experience for me but there was something missing. Now that I’ve been at my current job for three weeks, I’ve finally felt that the career shift is over. When I left my last job I kept thinking that going back to collections was always a safety net. It’s a skill I now have after 10 years in the industry and if things don’t work out as a teacher I have plenty of job opportunities. I’m happy to report however, that it will be a cold day in Bangkok before I go back to any job that requires me to wear a headset and have my production controlled and monitored by a machine.

Over the years people kept telling me that I would make a good teacher but I never really knew for myself if it was something I could pull off. My TEFL trainer said we would know after our first day in the classroom. I know now. I’m a teacher.

So Where Have I been?
I returned from Aceh with the idea of hanging out for a few days and then heading to Lake Toba later in the week. On the Monday of that week I arranged to observe some classes at school. I went in and after a couple of hours I was asked if I could start work immediately the following day rather than a week later. I took a deep breathe and accepted. Ultimately this way was much better. It was like ripping off a band-aid rather than pulling it off slowly. I would have spent the rest of the week and the weekend thinking about my first day and instead I was thrust into it.

There are three schools that I need to be available to teach at on any given day however my home school is literally next door to where I live. I teach four days a week there and then one day at the flagship school. The good thing about starting early was that I was doing substituting for local teachers. This allowed me to learn the ropes a bit and get used to it without having my normal classes. The real reason I’m here is because another native English teacher finished his 12 month contract and is heading back to Canada. As of September 16th I took over his classes and will now have the same students throughout the semester.

Jln. Jemadi House in Medan, Indonesia

From the balcony of my room.

Home Sweet Home
I’m finally settled into the house I’ll be living in for the long term. It’s a huge four story condo with big bedrooms with AC, balconies, a roof top, a shared kitchen and shared bathrooms. I couldn’t ask for better roommates. We seem to be on the same page so far. My bedroom has some work to be done. There was a leak in the ceiling that is supposedly fixed. The AC isn’t too strong but there is a leak in it and I’m waiting on the mechanic to come fix that. The door to the balcony is an absolute mess and it looks like a giant rat has been trying to chew its way through. I’ve moved in a couch and coffee table from the living room, bought a rug for the floor and moved some things around so it’s starting to come together. Most importantly I switched the dreadful white light to a softer yellow which makes such a big difference.

The Expats
The ex-patriot community (westerners living and working in Medan) seems quite nice. There are probably only about 100 or so of us here which is part of the reason i wanted to live in Medan. Westerners are rare so we get a unique experience. As opposed to Bangkok where there are tons of foreigners and you just blend in as another face in the crowd. There is a core group of guys that occasionally meet up for drinks and only a few western women. As far as I know there are only three Americans living Medan. I’m sure there are more but I’ve only met the two others and one just arrived as an art teacher from Texas.

This is it for now. I’ll try and make sure I update more about the classroom. I absolutely love

Hari Raya and Idul Fitri

I’ve been wanting to get inside this mosque for awhile. While it’s perfectly acceptable for a non-Muslim to enter, I never really felt comfortable on my own. On the eve of Hari Raya, the day that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, me and my friend went to mesjid raya (grand mosque) and ate sate padang outside the gates. She told me she would take me inside so we could take photos.

Grand Mosque

Mosques are quite simple on the inside

This would be the second mosque I’ve been inside. The first was the national mosque in Kuala Lumpur. Very few are open to non-Muslims in this world but Indonesia and Malaysia seem to be pretty open about it. We took off our shoes and entered. She told me to come with her into the prayer area but I didn’t feel comfortable doing that. I have no real connection to the faith, where as at least inside a church I know what is acceptable and what is not. It’s the same way I feel inside of a Buddhist temple. It’s kind of an awkward experience.

The inside was quite ornate. She took my camera and got few photos for me. The prayer areas are separated by gender with a makeshift wall in between. The loud speaker from the minaret was calling “allahu akbar!” (God is great) repeatedly for several minutes.

Hari Raya

Indonesians celebrate in the streets of Medan

It was raining at first so there weren’t too many people in the streets but after the rain stopped the motorcycles, cars and parade floats took to the streets for a carnival like atmosphere. Some trucks were rigged with loud speakers with young Muslim boys reading from the Koran. Other vehicles had truck beds full of children and adults shouting “Allahu akbar!” It was an interesting experience. A month full of fasting had finally ended and Indonesians were celebrating with the rest of the Muslim world.

Sate Padang

A night food stall near my house sells sate padang. A dish from Padang, Western Sumatra. It’s traditionally made with beef in Padang but in Medan chicken and lamb are commonly used. This particular sate padang was chicken (ayam). The spicy yellow sauce on top is made from rice flour, turmeric, ginger, garlic, coriander, galangal root, cumin, curry powder and salt.

I’ve never been a real adventurous eater. It’s not so much that I’m afraid to try new things but I’m shy about ordering when I don’t know what it is that is available. I was hungry tonight, it was raining and I knew I had limited options so I pulled my motorbike up to a sate padang vendor and just pointed.

It doesn’t look like much but it was very cheap (less than $1.00) and it was quite delicious!

Sate Padang Ayam

Food tastes better served on banana leaf

Banda Aceh and the Tsunami Sites

Before I go any further. For reading purposes. Aceh is pronounced: “AH-chay”

I wanted to see more of Banda Aceh so on my final morning in Aceh I rented a motorcycle and after eating a quick breakfast I made the 17k trip into the city center. I was armed with only a simple tourist map written in only Indonesian. My first stop was the tsunami museum. Many of the exhibits were closed but I got to see a little bit about the post tsunami damage and efforts of restoration. Unfortunately, most of the exhibits were in Indonesian only and only a few had English. The museum opened in 2007 and admission is free.

Aceh Tsunami museum

Aceh Tsunami Museum opened in 2007

After the museum a few local school girls helped me find an internet cafe. They hopped on their bikes in pairs and I followed them down the street. I took care of some website business then crossed the street to a travel agent to book a flight back to Medan for the following day.

My next order of business was to find a power generator vessel that came ashore during the tsunami. Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful as it was tucked away in a residential area. I then headed off in search of the grand mosque.

Since the map was labelled in Indonesian I wasn’t sure what much of it said so on my way to the mosque I accidentally came across the Aceh Thanks the World memorial park. After the December 26, 2004 Indian Ocean (Boxing Day) earthquake and tsunami disaster, Banda Aceh was completely devastated. The maps that showed how far inland the waves damaged was incredible. Indonesia alone suffered anywhere between 170,000-220,000 of the 200,000-300,000 total deaths from this disaster. The province of Aceh alone had a death toll of nearly 100,000. There was a huge response to this tragedy around the world and in order to show its gratitude Aceh built a memorial park with a large wave monument and individual plaques to each country who gave support.

Aceh Thanks the World

Aceh Thanks the World

I spent some time in the park reflecting back on December 27th, the morning after the disaster. I vividly remember sitting by the computer reading articles and following message boards. I had never donated to a disaster prior to the tsunami but I felt compelled to and have done my best to give at least something when a major disaster happens. I remember not even knowing about Banda Aceh prior to the tsunami and here I was 6.5 years later standing in the city center that didn’t exist when I first learned about the place.

Aceh thanks the USA

Aceh thanks the United States of America

After taking a walk through the park and reading all the plaques dedicated to each country, I hopped back on my bike and headed for the mosque. The grand mosques in Sumatra have a Dutch colonial look to them. They are massive and a gathering place for Muslim men and women at almost all hours of the night and day. An afternoon call to prayer was being announced as I parked my bike and walked into the yard. I get looks when I’m in the city but I seemed to get extra attention inside the mosque compound. I wasn’t dressed appropriately to enter so I just hovered around outside and took photos.

Grand mosque Banda Aceh

Mesjid Raya Baiturrahman

I was hungry and since Sharia law in the Aceh province makes it illegal for Muslim and non-Muslims to consume food and drink during fasting hours, I had to be discrete about it. I headed back to the beach and had a quick lunch at the bungalows then returned to Banda Aceh. It was a nice ride so I didn’t mind doing it.

Joel's Bungalow

A nice discrete afternoon lunch to break fasting.

I wanted to try and locate the power generator vessel that was carried through Banda Aceh into its final resting point where it is today. My second attempt was more fruitful and right in the middle of a residential community was this enormous power generator. The museum and the memorial were interesting but the devastation really hit home when I saw this giant ship that was quite a few kilometers inland from the Indian Ocean laying in between a bunch of houses. Then sadness sets in when I realized this vessel rested on top of several homes killing the families that lived there. They’ve put the vessel to good use and it gives power to Banda Aceh.

Power generator vessel

Power generator vessel

The final stop I wanted to make was “kapal atas rumah.” Translated this means, “ship on a house.” It was in a small neighborhood along the riverside. There were several boats that rested on top of homes after the tsunami but this one was left in its place as a memorial. Again, like the power generator vessel, this was in a residential area. I wasn’t sure where to look for it so I asked some locals and they told me the way to go.

Boat on a roof

Boat on a roof.

How the Tsunami Ended Decades of War
I didn’t quite spend the amount of time in Aceh that I originally planned. I wanted to take a slow journey back to Medan by bus stopping along the way in various towns and cities. There is virtually no information about the province in guide books outside of Banda Aceh and Pulau Weh so it would have been an interesting adventure where I could have put my Indonesian to good use.

Aceh has never really been a tourist destination due to the ongoing armed conflicts that the region has suffered for decades after Indonesia became independent. There have been attempts by armed separatist groups to declare Aceh an independent nation as it was prior to Dutch colonialism. There were demonstrations in the late 90’s and conflict leading all the way up to 2004 before the tsunami.

I don’t want to talk too much about the politics and take any sort of a stance on it since I’m living in Indonesia now and free speech does not mean the same thing as it does back home but one could probably be forgiven for sympathizing with the separatist movement. Read more about it or watch the documentary The Black Road if you’re interested.

If just one good thing came out of the tsunami it is the almost immediate impact it had on the war. By December 28th, just 2 days after the tsunami, the GAM separatist movement in Aceh declared a cease fire and less than a year later the Indonesian government and GAM came to a peace agreement that ended decades of civil war. The tsunami itself was stated as the main motivating force for an agreement as the separatists felt the Acehenese people had suffered enough and deserved peace.

Banda Aceh is a pleasant city. Unlike many other Indonesian cities.

The peace agreement still stands to this day and the city of Banda Aceh has at least recovered from the physical scars of the tsunami. The situation in Aceh still remains volatile as the war with Indonesia was not that long ago. Hopefully, things stay as they are now and peace continues because the Aceh is a beautiful place. I do look forward to making that journey through the province at a later time.