Identity, Politics.

HAYLOOOOOOW PEOPLEeEEee!!! i would apologize for the lack of updates, but I'VE BEEN TRYNA LIVEEEEEEE since i'll be heading to Sydney in a few weeks to return to that office lifeeEEeEe.... so no apologies from meEe.. only stories!  (and OKay maybeeEe a slight apology due to the fact that this post will probably be long and personal) 


So like i said, i'm heading to sydney in a few weeks.. to hopefully get a JOB (both my bank account and my dear mother are very glad to hear this!) i think i'm ready (maybe?) to resume my career.... i feel that i can truly acknowledge how #blessed i am to live the life i lead at this point (not that i didn't really ever know it) but honestly, being back in Indonesia has made me realize how different my life could have turned out to be if i was raised here instead of the US. i'd probably be married right now with children... not that there's anything wrong with that because i think motherhood is a rewarding experience (from my observations, obvi!)...  but it's liberating to be able to make the choice of whether or not to become a mother and to not have it be an expectation (sort of.. there are still burdens young women carry regardless of where they're from in this world!)

i also think as a Chinese Indonesian, a community that tends to be better off financially but that  self segregates due to a mix of fear and elitism with regards to the local Indonesians, I think I'd be living in a bubble/gated community and have limited contact with regular folks, which is totally not like me since i love talking to strangers no matter where they're from....(As a side note, their fear may be arguably justifiable once you learn about Indonesia's violent past. An estimated 400,000-1,000,000 Communist/ethnic Chinese/left wing supporters were killed following a failed military coup by the communist party in the 60s.. large discrepancy in the number, but its hard to get an accurate measure due to so much secrecy around this terrible incident.. This failed coup forced the ouster of the first president of the state, Sukarno, and set in place a military dictatorship by Suharto, who was only disposed of in the late 90s following the economic collapse of SEA, which resulted in more violence and more attacks against ethnic Chinese. The incident in the 60s was recently recognized as crimes against humanity by a tribunal in the Hague, with the US, UK and Australia all found to be somewhat complicit, but the perpetrators have yet to be punished, while the Indonesian/Western governments fail to acknowledge their involvement in the mass atrocities.  "The Act of Killing"  an award winning documentary on the subject is a really interesting/disturbing film based on interviews with the killers who openly talk about their crimes without impunity.. it coincidentally takes place in my mom's hometown, Medan, where fear and tension still lingers...  i highly recommend it, as well as The Look of Silence which is its counterpart from the murdered family's perspective)

So I guess that's where i can start my story from, Medan... after my happy, glorious few days in Kuta (Lombok!), I got on a flight to KL (since my 30 day visa was pretty much up) where I spent the night sleeping at the airport (surprisingly very comfy) before flying into the city the next morning. I haven't been to Medan since I was 8 so all I didn't remember much other than becaks (pedicabs), malls and smog, which are all still there..  my uncle, who i haven't seen in years, was waiting for me at the train station... aka the guy who looks like the male version of my mom and all my other aunties

after spending a few days in the home where my mom + her 7 siblings + my 3 uncles grew up all under one small and modest roof and catching up with my uncle, i made my way to bukit lawang, which it the gateway to to Gunung Leuser National ParkSumatra is one of the only two places left in the world where you can see orangutans in the wild (the other being Borneo) sooo I decideddto do a 2 day, one night jungle trek where i got to hang out with orangutans & other monkeys as well as a group of Dutch people, 2 of which were also half Indonesian (i also impressed them with the fact that I knew how to say "Hey cutie, nice ass. fucking in the kitchen? BYE! which BTW is leeker deng, leeker coincha, no-keeen in the ko-keeen. dewey!" YEP im superrRRr cultured nowadays!) 

since i misplaced my trekking shoes, i was cajoled into trekking with rubber slip on shoes which they claimed were "indonesian jungle treeking shoes that all the locals wore," which provided very little assurance since half the locals also trekked in flip flops (thongs!!) and there was no way i was could to that. but ANYWHOSE, it was fun...  hot and sweaty too, but getting super up close and personal with about 4 orangutans was amazing. its REALLY crazy to see how humanish they look... i guess they're our closest ancestors? plus our porters made a supErErRRR delicious dinner in the middle of the effing jungle (s/o to Sumatra Paradise!) which included one of my favorite indonesian foods, Rendang, plus a little devious monkey stole our sugar and ate it like it was crackkkkk. since we were all lazy and didn't want to hike back thru the jungle, we also took an adventurous "raft" ride back to town. and by "raft" i mean a bunch of donut holes tied together so not exactly the safest or most secure.. but hey, its asia and THATS THE WAY I LIKE IT (uh-huh, uh-huh!)

Anywhose, after BL, one of my beautiful, gorgeous friends, Antonia, who i met while traveling in Ecaudor, messaged me that she was heading to Sumatra so we decided to meet up in Lake Toba,.. since i have time but no money, i decided to try and get to Toba on the cheap, which meant taking the local bus instead of the tourist bus...  luckily once again, the lovely owner of Sumatra Paradise helped me sort it out (instead of trying to sell me the tourist bus!) sooo basically i had to go back to Medan (3 hours) on an angkot (mini van) and then take another angkot to the bus station in Amplas (1 hour), which is a little outside of the city, where I could catch a bus directly to Parapat (5 hours).. which where i could take the ferry to TukTuk, (40 minutes) which is an island on the lake.. so basically a whole day of traveling, whcih was sort of exhausting but luckily i caught Antonia in Amplas, so we got to ride the bus and ferry together where we caught up and also took naps because we were both exhausted!

The next day, Antonia, being the bad ass that she is because she is a licensed motorcycle driver, and I rented a bike and went all around Pulau Samosir, an island in the middle of the Lake which is about the size of Singapore.. which btw means that Lake Toba is the largest volcanic lake in the world. I wouldn't call our day *relaxing* because we got lost a few times trying to look for the *scenic lookout point* that we could never find (though we made our own which meant we drove into an area that was actually not supposed to be drivable) and went to this little spring about halfway around the island that had a magical spring that tasted like lemon!!!!!!

we also explored a few of the Batak houses which are known for their famous boat-shaped roofs and finely-decorated carvings. They're built from natural materials — mainly wood and bamboo — using no nails, spikes or screws, but simply held together with fiber from ijuk palm... Batak btw is a collective term used to identify a number of ethnic groups predominantly found in North Sumatra,Indonesia. They're Christian too, which explains the large number of churches we saw while exploring. After 2 nights in Toba, we were ready to leave & head to Berastagi.. 

Again, because I'm cheaapppppp AF, we decided to take the local buses to Berstatgi, which in hindsight only saved us a grand total of $5 and included 5 transfers and took about 8 hours. but we still had a good time, eating deeeelicious passion fruit and running into the cuuutest kids when one of our buses broke down mid-journey! we finally got to Berstagi around 8PM after traveling the whole day, so we were super hangrrryy and tired, and got some yummy street food While I wanted to originally do the sunrise hike up to Mt. Sibayak, due to our tiredness/laziness, we opted to start the hike early in the morning instead.. it turned out to take FARRR longer than the 4 hours it was supposed to take.. instead of getting back at 12, we arrived at 4, super dity because we were slipping and sliding thru a muddy path, that i *think* we weren't supposed to take (story of my lifeeEE).. we were super tiired and frustrated. and now after googling "Sibayak" i see on"Trails on Sibayak volcano are neither clearly marked nor well maintained, and it is easy to get lost..... People have died on Sibayak, so seriously consider getting a guide." OOPs. well im glad we didn't die. and  we walked away with a good story and nice photos, so job well done, i suppose! 

after getting back from climbing sibayak, we opted to go back to Medan since Antonia wanted to go to Bukit Lawang and I wanted to spend a few more days with my uncle and other members of my family. MEDAN IS EXTREMELY BORING and ONLY HAS MALLS but it also has my familiy, who may drive me crazy, but i still love them so i gotstaaa spend time with them! i may have no mentioned but my family is HUGEEeEe. my mom is one of 7 plus she was also adopted so i think she has another 7 siblings (14 in total for those terrible at math!) and my grandma was one of 5 (she was the only female!) so basically i feel like every stranger is somehow related to me in some capacity, though i might not be sure how. i got to meet my great uncle (whose over 90 years oldddDd.. seriously i couldn't believe it. hope i got his genese!!!) plus my mom's cousins and their family, whom i never ever met, they made me a deeeelicious lunch and took me out to dinner and then later to a place where i had some of the best durian ever (things i never thought i'd say.. hmm i guess i am definitely southeast asian in some capacity!) it was nice to see them and even though we struggled with communicating... me with my dismal bahasa indonesian and them with their very basic english, smiles are always universal, as i say, so there were lots of smiles, hugs, and pictures (duh cus we're asian!) 

again, i'd like to reiterate that after spending a week living in the house where my grandma raised 7 children as a young widow and where my mom spent her childhood before leaving to attend university in the US, I realize I am the person I am today because of their strength and sacrifices. I stand, not on the shoulders of giants, but on the shoulders of two petite women with enormous hearts, dauntless aspirations and courage beyond measure. Every parent hopes that their child knows a better life than theirs and I hope I make them proud every day... and i hope they know how grateful i am for giving me all these opportunities they never had...

anywhose, enough with that sappy stuff.. after medan, i took a flight to yogyka where i spent a few days relaxing in what may have been the prettiest place i've stayed in after 17 months of traveling, Yogyakarta BNB. it basically was my dream home.. a DYI renovation of a beautiful spacious home equipped with a nice backyard, a beautiful upstairs deck, great showers (yes, i know i'm obsessing over a bathroom but this very important while traveling!!), and a clean, well-organized kitchen plus a ton of other amenities. it was owned and fixed up by a group of lovely and young Indonesians, Mariza and Chuprit, who were really so inspirational.... and also extremely welcoming! there were also some other really nice backpackers there as well, including Joanna, an Indonesian woman who adopted by a German couple.. we had a discussion about identity over beers and what it means to come back to Indonesia as well as be Indonesian but also German/American, etc...

obviously this is something i've thought about often. for those who read this blog or have met me during my travels, i've talked about how i was really longing to find some sort of connection to Indonesia.. obviously as a first generation American, you sort of stand in between two worlds, with one foot rooted in where your parent's are from and the other one planted in the US... and as time goes by and as generations pass, you slowly but surely plant your feet firmer into the US as you assimilate, and move farther away from a culture that you have no firsthand knowledge about... coming to Indonesia was a way to get in touch with my identity as well as a way to connect with my mom.. since i've been gone for so long i 1) obviously miss her a ton and 2) i started to relate and identify with some of the struggles and frustrations she must have faced when she moved to a completely different culture, though i'm sure her experience was EXPONENTIALLY harder.... i want her to know that i love her and that i can at least, on some deeper level (though still very shallow) understand  where she's coming from, celebrate all she's accomplished and show my appreciation for all the sacrifices she's made.. 

exploring indonesia has that sort of deja vu, familiarity... since i grew up listening to the language but not speaking it, and eating the foods but not actually knowing the names of the dishes, it's like going back to a place i've never been.. but i am so proud to have roots in such a beautiful country filled with warm, lovely, smiley, and affectionate people.. which is soemthing i think that differentiates them from other Asian countries since i find east Asians to be more reserved based on past interactions (again, this is not factual, this is just MY observation) even when greeting someone in Indonesia, you tend to get closer, by either touching the other person's hand before bringing one’s hands back to the chest to demonstrate that you welcome from the heart or by brushing your side of your cheek against theirs on both sides. 

anywhose, i've met some of the kindest, smiliest and charismatic people on my travels in Indonesia..  from the sexxxxxy surfer dudes with huge tattoos and long hair playing guitar to the neneks dressed in their long batik that go around cleaning  the house and cooking delicious spiccccyy foods .. to the little girls running around, chasing soccer balls in hijabs to the little boys riding around in sunglasses and motorocycles or the old men peddling becaks or catching fish in the morning... i always get a big "HELLO" when I walk by... i love the beauty and uniqueness of all their brown faces.. 

‘Unity in Diversity’ is Indonesia's official motto and most Indonesians are united through the national language, Bahasa Indonesia (which btw is one of the easiest languages to learn because theres no past tense, no future tesne which means they always live in the present!, no masculine, no feminine, no plural.. plus the language takes words from other cultures that have influenced the country including dutch, Portuguese and arabic..)  and through the national philosophical foundation of Pancasila. These five principles come from age-old traditions and are said to define Indonesia’s nationhood:

  • Belief in the one and only God
  • Just and civilised humanity
  • The unity of Indonesia
  • Democracy guided by the wisdom of deliberations among representatives
  • Social justice for all the people of Indonesia

During her visit to Indonesia, our FUTURE PRESDIENT(!!!!!!) Hillary Clinton said "If you want to know if Islam, democracy, modernity and women’s rights can coexist, go to Indonesia.... and again, if you *ACTUALLY* read the begining of my blog, you can see Indonesia had a very tumultuous past, even in as recently as the 90s, and even though it is a huge work in progress, it's amazing to see how far its come... even during the last elections in 2014, which was very close, the loser, , Prabowo-Hatta agreed to step aside after the consutituional  court made his apeal. 

okay history lesson/government lesson over. 

so back to my story.. other than spending my days lounging in the BNB, i also visited Borobudur (thank u Barry for taking me on the bike!) the single largest Buddhist structure anywhere on earth,  which imo was not so spectacular.. maybe becuse there were a billion peopple thereE but eHHh.. was not so wowed.. and then spent another day going to Prambanan which was far nicer, even though there were probably just as many people.. iono, i think i just enjoyed the fact that it was spaced out a bit more and that i could wander around.. i also then spent 3 days in a row catching sunsets at Merapi, Bromo and Ijen. 

The first sunset was on Merapi, which was right by Yogyka so I got picked up at 10PM from BNB and arrived to Selo, which is the town where we began our hike at around 2AM.. it was a pretty easy though it was cold and towards the end, there was a sandy bit which basically meant for every two steps I took, I slid back one, but it was totally worth all the trouble when i got to the top to see the sunrise.. it was so peaceful and serene.. there was a huge crater behind us and a dazzlinggggg (!!!!) mountain in front... definitely one of the best sunrises i've seen on my trip, though to be fair, i've been pretty lazy so i prefer sunsets.

thenn the next day, after lots of sleep, i took the longggg transport shuttle from Yogyka to Mt Bromo.. we left at 830AM and arrived at 10PM and i had to wake up at 330 so that i coudl take an ojek (bike) to the sunrise spot, which imo was not so magical because it was too darn crowded.. i then headed straight to the crater which i think was far more spectacular. the sound of the volcano was incredibly loud and booming. i was a bit scared TBH...  it sounded like it was goign to blow any second which really just made me feel like an itsy bitsy speck in comparison to mother nature.

then i headed to Bondowoso that morning where i thought I'd spend a night relaxing before catching an angkot to Cemoro Lawang, and then to Ijen... but luck had it that while I was walking around the bus station, one Indonesian guy told me he owned Ijen Bondowoso Bamboo Homestay and could take me on his ojek at 11PM to Ijen so I could go that night and not have to spend money and time geting to Cemoro Lawang and staying at an expensive place sine there are actually limited amounts of acocmodation there and its high season. and i never say no to an ojek ride so after taking a nap, i woke up and at 11PM we made a 2 hour drive over dark, windy, bumpy roads to Ijen.. it was lots of fun but also nerve wracking since we were driving SOSOSOSO fast. but i survived, climbed up and then down and then put on my gas mask to the see the elusive blue flame..

according to Google, "The glow is actually the light from the combustion of sulfuric gases.Those gases emerge from cracks in the volcano at high pressure and temperature—up to 1,112°F (600°C). When they come in contact with the air, they ignite, sending flames up to 16 feet (5 meters) high. Some of the gases condense into liquid sulfur, "which continues to burn as it flows down the slopes," said Grunewald, "giving the feeling of lava flowing." So there you have it. of course, since i'm using my Galaxy S 5 to capture photos, it doesnt do so well in the dark so here are some images I stole from the Internets that describe what i saw that nigiht.. though again, photos never really do the real thing justice.

Since I wasn't a part of a stupid tour group, I was able to be one of the first peopel to get down there, whcih was nice to have the place to myself for a bit, before climbing back up and running into a massive line of head torches.. i climbed up to sunrise point where i took a little nap and watched the sunrise (duh!) at around 530 before climbing back down and getting back on the ojek for another 2 hours and returning to Bondowoso at around 9, completely exhausted. I was so tired I was falling asleep on the back of the ojek, which i guess means i've truly assimilated into Indonesian culture cus you see locals doing some crazzyyy shit back there.. like applying make up, sewing, breast feeding, etc.

I ran into a sweet Indonesian family the night before who made me promise that i'd come back the next night to hang out since i went to bed pretty early, so after a long nap, i woke up and headed toward their warung... a whole gang of girls came out and we went into the town's center (alun-alun) and rented a becak gowes, whcih is basically a large pedicab for a family (in Indonesia, there's always room for one more!) and peddled around the town which was super fun and then, of course, ate a lotttttt. we visited a few of their homes and everyone was so sweet and kind! the next day, bright and early, i took the bus where to malang where i chilled out for a few days since i was so exhausted from all my early mornings.. it was a cool city (i mean that in the figurative and literal sense) which was a nice reprieve from the hot weather. plus there was somee Dutch architecture and most impressive, wide streets with sidewalks, which are rare to find in Indonesia/Asia! i also did a language exchange with a few of the locals, which was pretty nice :)

I then made my way to Pandagaran, a beach town in Java, where I read the new harry Potter book (does it count as a Harry potter book? iono?) atet fresh fish, surfed, and visited the Green Canyon and Green Valley which was soooooo beautiful, though exhausting because we swam a ton (against the current), cliff jumped (which required a bit of climbing, though to be fair, i was too lazy/scared to do too much jumping) and body rafted (which caused a lot of bruising)... i signed up for the  tour, not knowing what to expect, and i was pleasantly surprised... unfortunately there was a lot of rain in the town so ididnt get as tan as i wanted to, but since i'll be living on a beach in Sydney, i can't get toooo worked up. 

After a few days there I made my way to Jakarta.. i wanted to spend as little time as possible there, because I've been before and i didn't ikke it.. but man, i had such a good time this time aorund so i was a bit gutted i left so sOOn. Gojek is seriously a game changer beacuse instead of spending, i shit you not, 5 hours stuck in traffic.. its fun to zoom in and out between the cars and get to your destination at max, in 30 minutes, for less than $2. i got to see so much more of jakarta this time, which included lots of food with my family members... some of i haven't seen in FOREVER.. like my kuku hock and his gorgeous  daughter, esi, whose around my age; my ieie ruth and her brother, my kuk johnny, who has two little kiddos who are now the same age as me the last time i saw him (apparetly they were in NYC the day of my birth.. almost 27 years ago!); my cousin alvin who moved back to asia after going to uni and working in the ad world to run the family business.. which he apparently quit to start his own business.. so proud of him!!!; and my mom's adopted sister and BFFL and her beautiful daughter, lydia!! always so happy to see all of them :D  its nice to know that family is family and they love me no matter how far, whether its time or distance, 

ANYWHOSE, considering how lazy and how infrequently i update, i expect the next time i'll be writing is in 'STRAIL-YAAAAA.. kinda unbelieveable how quickly time has flown. i'm starting to reflect already, though i probably wont understand the signifance of my trip until farther down the line. still, im loking forward to getting to sydey, to settle for a bit.. and to see what the future holds!! I'm terrified and scared and overwhelmed, but I figured every time i've felt this way, its always ended up being one of the best things i've done in my life.. in fact, the last time i felt this scared was right before my trip wich obviously turned out to the best deicion of my life...   Don't worryyyy this won't be the end of #LivingTheDrea :)