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.

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

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.

Pulau Weh

Photos of Pulau Weh can be found on my facebook fan page. You can view them by pressing “like” on the left hand side of this page and becoming a member of Joey Goes Global on Facebook.

Last week I left Medan for the northern province of Aceh with the intent of spending a few days in Banda Aceh. My birthday was on Friday, the 12th of August and I figured it would be quite a different experience to spend it in the least festive type environment as possible. However, before I left I got in contact with a fellow Long Islander that I met while I was in Bukit Lawang who convinced me to come up to Pulau Weh (Weh Island) for my birthday. She arranged to have a friend of hers who drives a becak to pick me up at the airport and bring me to the ferry for a good price. Pulau Weh is about one hour into the Indian Ocean from Banda Aceh.

I arrived at the harbor on the island and was approached by an young local asking me where I was going. I told him, Iboih (a small diving village) and we negotiated a fair price for the motorcycle taxi. I hopped on the back and met up with my friend. She introduced me to a couple of girls from the UK and Ireland who I would later spend much of the time hanging out with.

Pulau Weh is known as a world class diving location. Indonesia has some of the best diving in the world I’m told. My three friends all had just finished getting their open water diving certificates (PADI) the day prior so they were in a celebratory mood. We chatted into the evening and started making plans for my birthday the following day.

The next morning most of us got up early and rented motorbikes to take out on to the island. The main town on Pulau Weh is Sabang. We made our way to the Friday market and did some shopping. Fasting, or “puasa” as it is called in Bahasa Indonesia, is taken place throughout the month of Ramadan which falls in August this year. In the rest of Indonesia this is usually just a minor observance in the grand scheme of things however, in Aceh and Pulau Weh it is considered mandatory under strict Islamic law. As thirsty as we were once we left the confines of our small tourist village, we couldn’t drink in public. There are restaurants and resorts spotted throughout the island where eating and drinking can be done but it’s at your own risk and clear signs on the wall that consuming any beverage or food during fasting hours is strictly prohibited for all people, including non-Muslims. The island has a Christian and Buddhist population as well so there is no discrimination.

The day was wonderful. We rode around quite a bit and searched for a resort called Freddie’s where we hung out for awhile and ate lunch. The beaches on the island are all quite empty. After we relaxed for a bit we took off Sabang again to wait for sunset so that we could eat at the food courts. Sabang is quite busy in the evenings and myself and the two other girls were quite the novelty walking around. Both them were covered appropriately and it’s good because you could see the Sharia police checking us out to make sure. Women must cover themselves fully and not show any leg or shoulder skin. A full burca and head cover is not necessary. Even for myself I was concerned about my shorts being above my knees so at the first chance I got I changed into a longer pair.

We arrived at the food court at about 6:30pm. With 30 minutes to go before the end of fasting the stalls were already cooking their meals. At about 6:45 people began ordering food and drinks. You can see an entire food court full of people with drinks in front of them that they aren’t touching. At 6:50 the mosque begins a prayer and approximately 5 minutes later an alarm sounds. It is an air raid horn that can be heard from very far away. This is the signal that fasting is over and as soon as it sounds everyone begins drinking on queue.

We spent a few hours having a delicious meal. Everything from roasted duck and chicken to fantastic fruit shakes. We then took a 30 minute night drive back to our village on motorbikes. This was my first time riding a bike at night and I was surprisingly comfortable. I have to get used to it since I’ll be buying one in Medan for work soon.

The following day I went snorkeling with the three girls. I hadn’t snorkeled in tropical waters since I was 8 years old in the Virgin Islands. It was breathtaking going underwater for the first time. There were so many colors and so many different kinds of sea life right under my feet. Unfortunately this meant a lot of sea urchins as well. Iboih sits directly across from Pulau Rubiah and is a decent swim across a channel. The water gets so deep in the middle that even with goggles the bottom is not visible. About three quarters of the way across a strong current started pushing us to the left. One of the girls made it across quickly but the rest of us struggled. I could see how easily one could get swept away if they’re not careful about the currents. We finally managed to get across to Rubiah Island where we sat in on the beach and relaxed.

The girls wanted to show me the sea garden which is on the other side of Rubiah. We made a quick hike through the center and came out on a small beach. I was warned when we got to the rock coral to not put my feet down. This was to avoid sea urchins and more importantly not damage the ecosystem. The sea garden is one of the main attractions on the island and we had it to ourselves. There was beautiful coral reef and tons of sea life. I really didn’t even know what most of it was but that didn’t take away from it. The girls would point out certain things to me as they just got done with their diving course and the names of all the sea life were fresh in their minds.

We headed back to the channel to make our swim back to the island. The girls knew a lot about the ocean currents and before jumping they tried to figure out the best way to go about it. The margin for error is probably smaller than one would expect for a casual day of swimming, If we went in too far to the right there was only a few thousand meters between us and the open Indian Ocean. If we drifted too far to the left the girls would be coming ashore in the village in bikinis which would create problems under Sharia law. The decision was made to get in further to the left of course and if we happened to float too close to the village it would be better than going out to sea. The swim back was tough and towards the end I just had to put my head down and push on. One of the girls had an ankle injury so we had to keep pace with her as to not split up. We made it back safely and enjoyed the rest of our night.

Sumatra continues to get better and better with each new place. Although, I wouldn’t exactly call Pulau Weh better than the rest but it sure adds to the already large variety of things that this part of Indonesia has to offer. It has been interesting being here during Ramadan in the already strict Islamic state of Aceh. I had thought that Pulau Weh would be more relaxed in regards to adherence to it but it turns out it’s not. This was evident when one of my friends on the island went off to have some alone time with a guy she met and was stopped by Sharia police and given a warning. They were in a quiet private area having a chat, sitting several feet from each other and this was still enough to get the attention of a plain clothed officer. He told them they’d have to leave and if they are caught alone again they would be put in jail.

Now I’m back in Banda Aceh on the mainland in a bungalow right on the Indian Ocean. This was ground zero for the 2004 tsunami and tomorrow I plan to rent a motorbike and spend half of the day seeing the many tsunami related sites of the city and then the rest of the day in the countryside along the ocean and up in the mountains. I’ll just be armed with a map and my bahasa Indonesia in order to get me around. This will be a fun test of my ability to navigate Indonesian roads. Banda Aceh is a small city with not a lot of traffic so it will be a good warm up for the bustling havoc of Medan.

Sumatra, I’ll be back. Inshallah.

I’ve committed blogger sin and in the heart of my first teaching gig I went off the grid. I want to apologize for the lack of updates. I spent the second month of my volunteer contract in Sumatra just experiencing it. Sometimes it’s best to be that way. I didn’t put too much thought into writing. The contract is finished and due to strict immigration laws I was forced to make my way out of Indonesia. If I had it my way I would still be in Sumatra spending my money there but instead I am in Thailand now and will vacation for a couple of weeks in here before heading back to Indonesia.

Everything finished up smoothly in Bukit Lawang. I eventually got the hang of lesson planning and execution. I started to get really comfortable with myself and with the students. It started to become fun. Life in the village was good and the last week I spent by the river at a guest house with some great friends that I’m sure I’ll keep in touch with.

Bukit Lawang

Hands in the air for Mr. Joe!!

Next Step
I’m faced with a tough decision right now. For the last three months everything has been set up for me. I was doing my TEFL certification in April and immediately jumped into the volunteering in Sumatra. I haven’t had to make any decisions on what I’m doing as it’s been laid out in front of me. Now, what though?

For years my final teaching destination was always going to be Thailand. Specifically, Chiang Mai. Indonesia was also in the mix but I never really thought it would appeal to me as much as Thailand. The tables have turned dramatically now after having experienced the warmth of Northern Sumatra. I find myself missing the language and the people the most. I came back to Thailand with multiple motives. One was obviously to just have some fun for a couple of weeks and hang out by the water. The other was to see how I would feel after 2 months in Indonesia and whether or not Thailand would still appeal to me. I’ve confirmed Thailand as a holiday destination and not a place for me to live. The language is too difficult and I don’t want to live somewhere that I can’t pick up the language. One of my goals in living abroad was to acquire fluency in another language and Bahasa Indonesia is easy enough for that to happen. In 2 months I’ve become quite comfortable with holding pretty solid conversations with people. The population is far more eager to teach and there is less English overall so the necessity is there.

Now that I’ve narrowed it down to Indonesia with out any doubt, there comes the question of where? I’ve had a connection in Jakarta for some years now that has offered me a position if I’m willing to come take it. However, I’ve kind of fallen in love with Sumatra. I love a lot of things about it and I can see myself living in Medan, taking a job teaching English for a 12 month contract and really becoming fluent in Bahasa Indonesia by the end of it. I have friends that I have made already and places within the island I haven’t yet visited so plenty of new opportunities to explore.

Medan is a short flight away from Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Bangkok which could all make for long weekend getaways. I plan to purchase a motorcycle if I live in Medan so that I can travel myself outside of the city back to Bukit Lawang and Lake Toba on the weekends. Public buses take way too long and the tourist buses are really expensive. I sent out my resume and cover letter to a school in Medan that posted a job 2 days ago. I feel good about my chances if they take a look at my email, however I can’t tell how many people are trying to get jobs in Medan. I did include that I am currently in Thailand and my availability to start is immediately. This means that the school wouldn’t have to prepare a flight from the west and could save money by hiring me. That being said, there could be candidates showing up at the school in Medan in person who would be a better choice. I really have no idea what to expect but I’m hoping one way or another I hear something back shortly so that I can decide on what I’m going to do.

Flights from Bangkok to Jakarta at the end of next week are around $200 where as a flight to Medan is only about $80 and another $100 to Jakarta. So my thinking is that I will go back to Medan next week, purchase a tie and some slacks and go door-to-door with my resume and see what happens. If I don’t have any luck finding something then I will know I did my best and can head to Jakarta and take the position at EF that is available.

I kind of feel like I belong in Sumatra. Jakarta would be really fun and I’m certain there is a lot more to do as an ex-pat, but Sumatra is just where I need to be.

Spiders, Wasps and Other Stingy Creatures

In addition to weather, mother nature also brings an onslaught of annoyances from the animal kingdom here in Sumatra. I’ve become more comfortable with spiders but have grown to fear bees and wasps much more. I’ve come to terms with spiders being a part of life here and I know that they do keep the other bugs at bay. I prefer the spiders that make webs so I know where they are at all times but these little jumping spiders around the clinic seem pretty harmless. If I freak out every time I see one I wouldn’t get much done so I’ve decided to co-exist with them. I tend to talk to spiders and wasps and try to make agreements with them where we don’t bother each other. A wasp in my bungalow last weekend broke our agreement and kept flying a little too close to me for no reason. I got rid of him and his friend who made home inside my room. Hopefully it taught the other bugs a lesson. I sleep with a pretty nasty looking spider that has a web a few feet from where I lay my head at night but since he is in a web and should have no reason to come down, we co-exist nicely. If he breaks that trust I think he knows what will happen.

Pretty, but what the hell is it?

The monkeys around town are pretty cool. They are short tailed maquaques that march around the guesthouses in packs in search of the lazy tourist who leaves food open in their room or out on the porch. I know I made the mistake of leaving a half eaten bag of crackers in my room and when I returned the bag was gone. Luckily, monkeys aren’t interested in money or passports. While sitting at a restaurant by the river this week, a large pack of monkeys came to stalk the area waiting for a slip up. One of the bigger ones was brave enough to come into the common area, snatch a bag of biscuits and take off with it. I tried to shoo him off before he grabbed it but I ended up only managing to scare him enough to spill my coffee on to my iPod and cell phone. Aside from a distinct mocha odor my phone is fine.
Bats are pretty common here as well. The Indonesian word for bat is kalilawar. I thought that was interesting enough to share. There is one bat that flies around the front of the clinic every evening at pretty low altitude right over your head if you stand in the right place. Apparently he’s swooping in to eat some bugs so he’s OK with me.

Ants are quickly becoming a non-issue for me. I often find ants in my bed even though I never have food in my room. I ignore them or flick them off the side. They are real tiny and not the ones that bite so I try not to think about them.

An old friend from home, the gecko, is also another welcome guest in my room at night. Aside from the occasional screech they mostly just run around the walls and ceiling and chomp on unsuspecting mosquitoes.

I’d love to report that I’ve seen a Sumatran tiger but I’ve talked to people who have lived here their whole lives and have never spotted one. Tourists generally have to take a 1-2 week jungle trek to get even a chance to catch a glimpse of one. They are obviously really quick and evasive.

Holiday in Cambodia

It’s now 3 weeks into my two month contract. I’m in Indonesia on a 30 day tourist visa which meant from the beginning that I would have to handle my visa issue at the end of May. Luckily, there is a contact in Medan that works who will sponsor me to get a 30 day extension till the end of June. This is good because my only other option would be to fly out of the country to Penang, Malaysia and back in. Not only the money is a problem but if you’ve read my blog over the last several months you’d know that Penang is not one of my favorite places.

I sent a message to my contact and got a reply this morning saying that if I needed his help I would have to come this week and not wait till the halfway point next week. There is a certain visa processing time that I have to allow for. He said I have to bring my passport, disembarkation note from when I arrived in Indonesia and proof of onward travel before my visa runs out. This means, at the end of my stay here in Sumatra I won’t be traveling around the area like I had hoped. Instead, I have to choose a destination to fly out to so that I don’t overstay my time in Indonesia. Visa restrictions have gotten tighter recently here and I’m not really sure why. Instead of an extra 30 days spending my money as a tourist, Indonesia has forced me to other places.

(Update: I’ve arrived in Medan and I am going to do the visa extension at my guesthouse. It’s about $20 cheaper than the other guy)


I'm probably not going back to Angkor this time

This brings me to my next order of business. Where do I go after my extension runs out? I had absolutely no time to really go over it in my head since I have to be in Medan tomorrow with the confirmation for a flight in my hand. Internet is really spotty here so I can’t depend on being able to go in the evening due to the nightly storms and power outages so I made my decision early this morning. I’m going to fly back to Bangkok. (Obviously?) The flight isn’t too expensive and I plan to visit a good friend that I didn’t get to see my last time through. I’ll head south east again and pass back through Ban Phe and say hello to the TEFL International crew as well as some of the locals I had made friends with. This will be a quick trip through Thailand as the ultimate goal is to take a couple of weeks to relax in Cambodia before I start work. The border isn’t too far from Ban Phe and it will be nice to meet up with a good friend from the TEFL course who is working in Phnom Penh now.

I plan to return to Indonesia and start working in Jakarta as early as August 1st. I know, I know, why do I need a vacation after working only 2 months? Well, if you had the ability to travel for a month in between jobs, wouldn’t you? I’ll be locked into a 12 month contract with little vacation time so I’ll take it when I can. The job isn’t guaranteed yet but I have the feeling it’s just pending some copies of my degrees and certifications. There is an opening at English First and a friend of mine is a contact there so I should be OK, if I want it.

So, How is the Teaching Going?
I’m having my good days and my bad days. The bad days are pretty rough as I tend to lose all confidence in myself. The good days pick me back up nicely as soon as I realize where I am and that what I’m doing is something really special. Murphy’s Law applies strongly here in Sumatra. If anything can go wrong, it will. There are already very limited resources at my disposal and the ones I do have are dependant on mother-nature. Internet is a luxury and since I don’t have my own arsenal of lessons plans to fall back on, it’s imperative that I get online. The power goes out daily and there are storms in the evening that prevent me from being able to plan anything as internet places close down at the first lightning strike. Hujan deras! Raining profusely! The rain is bittersweet here as it hinders movement, is usually accompanied by lightning and causes the students to understandably not show up for class. On the other hand, without the rain it would be unbearably hot. The first week I arrived here it hadn’t rained for 10 days and if my readers can recall, I was pretty miserable. Since then the temperature has been mild due to the heavy rainfall every day.

I’m really enjoying the village where I’m staying. Everyone is extremely friendly and all the children in the neighborhood scream HELLO, HELLO!!! HELLO!!!!!!!! as I walk by. It really puts a smile on your face to get to leave the house to the sight and sound of children with absolute elation on their face. When the neighbor’s kids have friends over there are about 6 adorable Indonesian kids yelling “HELLO TAFUUUURO!! HELLO TAFUUUUURO!!!” It’s pretty amazing.

Bukit Lawang


It’s turning out that my evening class with the 7-8 teenage girls is becoming the easier class to plan for and teach. This is opposite of my feelings earlier in the month where I was struggling with them. They’re all really eager to learn and at times bordering flirtatious. When they’re not calling me “sir” they’re usually smiling and saying “ganteng,” or “handsome.” I don’t care what they call me to be honest. Mister, Joe, teacher, pak, guru, sir… just not Justin Bieber.

I took on an extra two classes that weren’t a part of the contract. There is a guy who lives in the village who has students come to house two times a week. These are the most difficult classes for me to plan for because the age difference and skill levels makes it complicated. On Tuesday there is a 6 yr old girl who just stares back at me with a blank look on her face. The problem is, if I take it back too basic, I’ll lose the interest of the students who have basic English already. The last thing a 15 yr old boy wants to do is count his ABC’s and call out ” C is for CAT!” at some lame flash cards.

I think my confidence is growing as the weeks go on. As with every jobs, it seems my low points are Mondays when I have a fresh set of classes to teach. If I plan properly there is zero stress in teaching. My problem is wanting to unwind on the weekend instead of planning out the following week. I moved around some class times to free up Friday night so I have Friday and Saturday entirely to myself. The Friday night class I switched to Sunday night, since I’m already back at the clinic at that point. This will give me more proper me time after teaching so that Sunday afternoon I can start figuring out the plan for the week.

So, that’s what has been going on. There is hope here. When this first started out I questioned whether or not this is for me. If I’m being honest with myself, I know I’ve been lazy about lesson planning but as each week goes on I’m organizing myself and my time to better accomplish what I need to. Teaching in Jakarta should be a breeze after this as there will be much more structure and most likely a specific curriculum to follow.

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 3: Back to School

Today was the first full day of the course. I just did a ton of hand writing so figure me for being a little short here. We started out with a class introduction and then went right into teaching methods. We are starting off this week by becoming students before we become teachers. The trainer chose to do a lesson teaching us Korean. We went through input, repetition and functionality. Meaning, he put the lesson in context, then used bubble for dialog that we build on to carry a short conversation and then together as a class, wrote the words ourselves. There was a lot of interaction and participation. The professor did not use English yet by the end of lesson we comprehended a small bit of Korean.

We were shown a method that we are soon going to be using on our Thai students and Korean was purposely chosen since we have little or no knowledge of the language so that we are in the shoes of our future students.

Doin homework

Doin homework

There is a small break in the morning and then a long 1.5 hour lunch around 11:30. I took this time to pick up a package at the post office that my mom sent me. I was really excited to get some news shirts and underwear as well as my harmonica! The most important thing was the dress shoes for teaching in the classroom, although, footwear is entirely optional in Thai classrooms for foreign teachers. Thai teachers generally must be barefoot.

After lunch we went straight back into it with some theater practice. Part of being a new teacher is being able to “fake it until you make it.” This is one place I feel is my strong point as acting has always been fun for me. We did some role playing and some impromptu story telling. It was a lot of fun even though some of the other classmates thought it was stupid. I’ve found a few of the others in the course don’t really grasp the idea that becoming a teacher means being flexible and dealing with surprises. I’ve come in as a blank sheet of paper, open to anything that the trainer throws at me, understanding that the end purpose is for the better. The trainer even went as far as warning us that we would be frustrated and that this is on purpose to challenge us. I’m certain they are seeing how we deal with adversary and using that in our evaluations.

It was interesting to find out that the two questions potential employers call references is about is whether or not the student was punctual and they got along with others. This is before experience. These are two strong suits of mine as well so my confidence is pretty high.

After we left class most of us stayed in the room to do our daily assignments which consist mostly of reflection on the lessons for the day. I’ve done more writing and reading in the first two days here than some of my entire courses at USF.

First job interview is set!
After finishing up our assignments most of us went our separate ways. I grabbed my laptop and headed to the beach bar about 30 seconds walk from the classroom to do some more writing and have an ice cold Singha. (Interesting side note: The month of August, my birth month, is called “Singha kom” which literally means lion month) I have been waiting on a reply from the English language school in Northern Sumatra, Indonesia and received it this evening. They apparently liked my application and resume and put me on the short list for the May-June volunteer (with pay) job. They want to set up a Skype interview asap so I have to speak with the administration at my school tomorrow to find out if I can do it there. I’m certain it should be no problem and can’t wait to get my first interview under my belt.

Thailand, you’re losing and Indonesia is winning

In the, Where Will Joey End Up Sweepstakes, Thailand is starting to fall precariously behind.

I arrived to the island of Penang off the west coast of Malaysia earlier this week in an attempt to secure a 90 day education visa for my stay in Thailand. I was told Penang is the most lenient Thai consulate so I felt pretty good. I think I’m realizing very quickly that visas are never a given and often a real pain. (see: Syria)

I’ve been staying in Georgetown, the second largest city in peninsular Malaysia. I was here four years ago and it is the same as it was then. Cockroaches roaming around the streets, open sewers with disgusting odors creeping out, transvestite prostitutes relieving themselves in back alleys, rickshaw drivers asking me if I want an array of different types of sexual adventures with my choice of girls both young and old, the smell of rotten food coming from stalls, and the glorious squeaking and chirping sounds of buildings infested with rats. Oh, but it’s been deemed a cultural heritage site by UNESCO. Add to this my cold and you could forgive me for being ready to leave.

So, day three in Georgetown and I finally have my verdict. I went to the Royal Thai Consulate the morning after I arrived. The owner of the guest house helped me prepare my documents and for a small fee drove me to the consulate. The visa office is only open from 9am-12pm so we got there just as it opened. It was a pretty quick process. They took my money (about $73) and my passport with all my documents. They said I needed a letter from the Ministry of Education in Thailand and that they would start the process but before they would grant it they need the fax from my school.


The elusive document!

Now, with only a receipt to pick up my passport the next day during a small window of time, I headed back to my guest house to start calling TEFL International. I spoke with one of the visa issue handlers on Skype but the connection was poor or she didn’t understand my request. She said to email her instead. I hung up the phone and immediately emailed her. Fast forward 24 hours, no reply. I sent several follow up messages advising them that this was time sensitive and I was to pick up my passport in an hour. They said they provided me with all the paperwork I should need and that if they don’t grant me the visa there is nothing they can do.

I went back to the consulate at 2pm that day and was given back my money and told that I was still missing the necessary letter. I got a sample from the consulate and took it back to my guest house where I took a photo of it and showed it to TEFL International. They emailed me back a few hours later to tell me that they called the Ministry of Education and that letter could be provided but it would be a minimum 5 days. They sent a follow up email asking me to explain my need for 90 days if my course is only 30 days long. I advised her that my plan was to enter Thailand as a tourist first visiting Bangkok seeing as though I have a friend there who is a teacher. I wanted to get acquainted more and start looking at accommodation in case I live/work in Bangkok.

I received a reply from TEFL International stating that my purposes are not acceptable and that they won’t be submitting the request to the Ministry of Education because they have had problems with foreigners using the 90 day education visa for strictly pleasure purposes. So, now I’m forced to go the dishonest route of doing “visa runs.” This requires heading to the border before your allowed time runs out, crossing into either Cambodia, Laos or Myanmar and then literally turning right back around and going through immigration. This is expensive, a real hassle and in my opinion dishonest. TEFL International said I would have to make a visa run in the middle of my intensive course with them in Ban Phe, Thailand.

So, needless to say, I’m a bit frustrated with Thailand right now. Not so much at the school itself but how strict immigration has become. This isn’t exactly a reflection on the country either but rather what the country has become since so many people find it to be such an alluring destination to find pleasure or business.

Thailand is slowly becoming less and less appealing to me as I am reminded in Penang of how many foreigners actually live there. There are bus loads of tourists doing visa runs in and out of Penang. When I was in Indonesia things felt so much different. Yes, there are tourists but due to its geographical position and being an island nation, it doesn’t get the same influx of people that Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia and the rest of mainland SE Asia gets.

What this all means is that I’ve already emailed TEFL International’s school in Surabaya on the island of Java in Indonesia. They’ve advised me that I can transfer my course from Ban Phe with out paying another deposit and that my final payment must be paid in Indonesia. My growing intention has already been to head back to Indonesia to work after getting my certificate so I figure why not just take my course there too so I specifically learn how to teach Indonesian students.

I miss Indonesia intensely. Almost the moment I left I felt deflated a bit. It’s hard to explain but I really fell for Sumatra. I can only hope that Java is just as good. I’ve heard nothing but good things about all of Indonesia. (outside of Bali) So, maybe this will be a start to a life in a country that wasn’t exactly the front runner for where I was going to end up but at the same time makes so much sense now. I remember receiving postcards from a girl I met online who lived in Jakarta when I was 17 yrs old and how I dreamed about going to Indonesia someday. This isn’t to say I don’t still like Thailand, but maybe it just isn’t meant to be. I’m waiting to hear what the process for a transferring to Surabaya is and whether or not a visa is easy to get. I may have to make a return trip to Singapore to the Indonesian embassy.

UPDATE: Since writing this I found another possible way to obtain a 60 day tourist visa for Thailand. This requires me to be dishonest and say that my trip is solely for tourism. This statement about sums up the process.

[joseph] I appreciate your desire to be honest,but please understand that your
not dealing with a straight-forward system or process here

So, I’m paying the owner of my guest house $10 to take care of it tomorrow. She has my passport and two photos plus my tourist visa application. She will drop it off at the consulate and then pick up my passport with the 60 day tourist visa inside. The fee is waived until May this year so it will save me nearly $40. I am not getting too excited. I have a feeling that since I already tried to get an education visa and failed, they’ll have me in their system and deny my tourist visa. If this happens, the office in Indonesia has already advised me I can enter on a 2 month cultural study visa as long as I have an Indonesian citizen sponsor me. I have someone in mind who could help me so we’ll see. Either way, I seem to have a glimmer of hope here.

I know this sounds like a lot of headache for Thailand but in reality citizens of most countries, including the U.S., can just arrive at any airport and receive a stamp on their passport good for 30 days. I’ve complicated matters myself by arriving via land as a tourist and by needing extended time to take the course.