Monday, September 21, 2009

Selamat Ulang Tahun

I step over criss-crossing cables, microphone in hand, while Pete, our resident Fulbrighting music-maker gets the guitar from its generous owner. New friend Thom (quiet humor / fellow music-maker) gets the other microphone. And off we go… “Sunday morning, rain is falling. Share some cover, steal some skin.” Maroon 5: Sunday Morning. There’s nothing quite like singing karaoke with actual instruments backing you up. Especially on your birthday. Especially in Indonesia.

I’m in Indonesia?

I’m in Indonesia.

How the heck did I get to be singing live karaoke in Indonesia on my birthday?

The morning started about as wonderfully as could be. I opened the card and present my family had packed in my bag for me. It was a book of Olivia, pig prodigy & extraordinaire, filled with just the right quotes. The quirky, be yourself, go get em quotes you need when you’re in a new country on a new journey.

I hung up the “Happy Birthday” banner that had so recently adorned the tree house Erin and Kathy and I stayed at in Hostel in the Forest.

Hugs may be better in person, but you can still feel them from halfway around the world.

Today we would be observing classes at schools in Bandung. The six of us who would be posted at vocational high schools packed into a van and headed off to our school. We were greeted by the headmaster and given a tour of the school. Perhaps the building needed a little tender loving care, but the students seemed to be getting plenty. Kalada and I went into one classroom to observe and saw a very good lesson on describing a process in English. The class of about thirty had only four boys in it. My suspicion is that this has something to do with the school being a vocational school, but I don’t know for sure. To demonstrate using English to describe a process, they were divided into groups. Each group had brought in a traditional Indonesian craft and gave a presentation explaining how it is made or used or worn. It was great to see the cross-cultural application of using English to describe very Indonesian items. Near the end of class, Kalada and I answered questions for a bit and talked about how much we loved Bandung. (It really is quite loveable.) Then, quite surprisingly, the students gave Kalada and I each a craft. They gave him a fan woven together from coconut leaves. While, I was given a traditional woven basket-bowl used to serve rice. (I’m still not quite sure how I’m going to pack it, but it’s ever so cool.) The gifts were so unexpected and so generous.

Have some love.

After that the class trailed outside with us to take pictures. Indonesia is apparently also a very photo-happy culture. Picture after picture. Camera after camera. It didn’t take long for my cheeks to hurt in the best way possible. Just when the picture-taking seemed to have waned, the students burst into a joyful chorus of “Happy Birthday.” Apparently someone had told the students that today was my birthday. Just when I thought I couldn’t feel more love, my heart made room for some more.

(Is it bad for me to admit that I was secretly hoping this would happen?)

Back in the school lobby we waited for the other ETAs to finish observing their classes. Soon, one of the particularly good English speakers from our class brought us some Indonesian sweets.

More love.

A bit later, two of the girls from class came and gave me an angklung, a musical instrument made from bamboo.

It was a birthday present.


More love.

The rest of the afternoon was sprinkled with “Happy Birthday’s” and “Selamat Ulang Tahun’s” with a couple more renditions of “Happy Birthday” from teachers and fellow ETAs.

I wasn't quite sure where I wanted to go to dinner. So, that afternoon I mentioned to the hotel staff that it was my birthday and that a restaurant recommendation would be nice. They wished me happy birthdays then suggested Stone Cafe. I had just gone there the night before, but it really was wonderful. So, two nights in a row!

Later as we were waiting in the lobby trying to organize taxis and how we'd get there, one of the ladies from the front desk touched my shoulder and said, "Miss Kelly?" "Yes?" "We wanted to give you a birthday present." Really? REALLY?

She walked me over to the front desk where she gave me a Novotel (the name of our hotel) bag with a Novotel coffee mug and a Novotel journal with a cute picture of a panda asleep on a perfectly made Novotel bed.

I can't imagine hotels in the U.S. doing this. I really can't.

Or maybe it's that I'm not staying at hotels this nice in the U.S.

At any rate...

More love.

That evening a big group of us went to a restaurant called Stone CafĂ©. It’s on the mountainside with a lovely view of Bandung. They have the option of sitting around a low table under the hut Indo style or using regular old chairs and tables. Because the group was so big we went with the chairs, but The restaurant was so accommodating with our massive group of twenty plus people. Good food. Good company. Great night.

After I finished I moseyed around the table taking pictures and making sure everybody was enjoying themselves. I turn around at one point to find the entire staff carrying a cake and singing “Happy Birthday.” My dear new Fulbrighting friends had bought a cake from the nearby Holland Bakery and brought it here completely unbeknownst to me. Eeyore perched on top, alongside candles and a slice of white chocolate emblazoned with “Selamat Ulang Tahun.”


The night continued in wonderfulness. As a few of us added up the money and paid the bill (buying my dinner as well), we could hear a few people from our group singing a little ways off. We walk out to find two from our group onstage singing with the guitarist and bass player. The much-hoped for karaoke was here.

Early on in the trip when we thought about possible birthday activities, karaoke had come up a fair bit. But as our understanding of what did or did not happen during Ramadan became more attuned, it seemed that karaoke would be pretty unlikely to happen. But here we were. Singing right along to whatever we could remember the words to.

Of course, only if remembering the words is your thing.

So, maybe that’s how I ended up on a stage singing Maroon 5 on my birthday.

Now how I ended up on a stage singing Maroon 5 on my birthday in Indonesia? I’ll have to get back to you on that. I’m still not really sure.