Unintentional offering

The first thing we noticed at Parangtritis beach was the SUV in the water. It was hard to miss. It was stuck in the sand and the rising tide was rocking it a little harder with each incoming wave.


Someone had made a poorly-planned effort to go offroading. But that wasn’t the real reason they’d gotten stuck. Everybody knew the real reason: the truck was green, or at least greeny-blue, and green is the favorite color of the Queen of the South Sea. People always warn you not to swim at Parangtritis in a green bathing suit, or the Queen will grab you in her strong watery embrace and you’ll never be seen in this world again.

Furthermore, a Protestant minister on the beach informed us, this particular Monday was a very spiritual day on the Javanese calendar, so our offroader was really asking for trouble.


People hung around watching. The minister said later, when the tide started going down, they’d get a bunch of guys together to push the truck out. We didn’t want to wait, so we strolled off down the beach.

We had dashed out to Parangtritis after school that afternoon, just for a little getaway. We were glad we did. There weren’t many people. It was quiet. The air smelled like ocean and the sand felt like ocean. It’s crazy how rarely we see the ocean, given that we live in an archipelago.

We had a good walk and then bought an ear of roasted corn spiced with sugar and chili. It was so good we bought another. We watched the sun set.

Later we got some fish at a little strip of restaurants back near the parking lot. Everything had that offseason feeling. The restaurants were all lit up, but they were empty. Our taxi was the only car in the parking lot.


On the way back the driver told us he’d watched them get the truck out of the sea. The guys had waited for each incoming wave and then pushed, letting the ocean help them. As we sped home in the dark, often straddling the white line in the middle of the road, we passed the green truck being towed to the repair shop, still dripping. Maybe the Queen of the South Sea decided she didn’t like SUVs.

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Rewarded for good behavior

We felt pretty sorry for ourselves when we had to leave Jakarta in the middle of the film festival last week, but it was the only time we could both get away, and language school seemed more important. So it felt like validation when we stumbled onto a documentary film fest inYogya after our classes on Friday.

Left: Larry Weinstein tries to wrap it all up

We saw most of Beethoven’s Hair and all of Mozartballs, and director Larry Weinstein was even on hand to take questions. One audience member asked, “I didn’t really understand the movie. What was it about?” That seemed to leave him at a bit of a loss.

We went back the next day to catch some movies at a cafe, and struck up a conversation with a bunch of students. They turned out to be members of a group blog called Cah Andong, named after a traditional horse cart used in Yogyakarta. The blog is about “exploring the exoticism of Yogya,” and part of its mission is to help draw visitors back to the city after the earthquake of late May.

Alex discusses the philosophical underpinnings of “Smallville”

After watching a bunch of docs, we went to a nearby EsTeler 77 and got some noodles and of course es teler, a syrupy concoction of ice, coconut milk, jackfruit and avocado. Everybody talked in a mixture of English and Indonesian about Yogya, movies, TV, and the relative merits of various Indonesian sci-fi soap operas.

Alma tackles a plate of dumplings

They were an impressive bunch. I sat across from Alma, who’s studying engineering. Next to her was Alex, who majors in Informatics, a discipline so new that Indiana University recently established an entire department just to figure out what the heck Informatics means. But they were cool and didn’t try to explain any math to us, which would have been hopeless in any language. We parted with promises to keep up with each other’s blogs and try to get together again.

Our triumphant return

We’re back from Yogya! with me- and -kan verbs coming out our ears — and sometimes our mouths, even.

One of the unusual things about the school, Realia, is that all the teachers are trained to write upside-down. That way they don’t have to slow down the class by turning the paper around all the time.


Here’s Bu Etik, who taught our often raucous afternoon class. (We had individual instruction for the first two sessions of the day and then Chad and I had class together after lunch.)


This method really does save time but at first it’s hard to concentrate, because you’re so busy ogling their writing technique.

Borobudur, briefly


So, we’re still here in Yogya doing battle with passive construction and other thorny linguistic issues. We took a little time off yesterday to go to this place, Borobudur, a Buddhist temple outside Yogya. It was one of those funny trips where we seemed to spend about 8 times longer getter there and back than we actually did at the site. I liked the temple a lot because even though it’s huge, it’s very human — the artwork is all at eye-level and not huge or intimidating. Anyway, more later on that. We’re going back to Jakarta tomorrow, where our slowww internet connection will seem speedy by comparison to the ones here at the school.

Junk food of the week: Nose cereal


Chad gave me this because I had to miss a documentary yesterday about nose jobs in Iran, which apparently has the highest per capita (or per nasum, if you will) rate of nose jobs in the world.

It was part of a double feature at JifFest, and I only had time to see one film because I had to get to work. I was really hoping they’d screw up and show the movies out of order, but they got it right this time, so instead of nose jobs I saw a film about the famed female Palestinian hijacker of the late ’60s, Leila Khaled.

I can still feel the disappointment as I type. But nose cereal is an excellent consolation prize. As you can see, there are other versions including heart cereal and intestine cereal. Most disturbingly, in certain ways, there’s also toenail cereal. All that plus sugar and artificial coloring, brought to you by Nestle with its usual sensitivity to child nutrition.

The hijacker movie was pretty good, by the way. I wonder what the consolation prize would have been for missing that one?


Promised paradise

below: JIFFest logo

The Jakarta International Film Festival began yesterday, which is like Christmas, New Year’s and the Brattle Theatre all rolled into one. German short films! Iranian documentaries! Indonesian dangdut teen flicks with English subtitles! In a movie theatre world dominated by the lousiest Hollywood products, it’s a mini-revolution.

Like all revolutions, it has its bumpy moments. Last night we went to see a documentary about an elephant rescue in Sumatra. It turned out to be a double feature with a doc about the Bali bombings, which was all well and good. But there were no tickets or assigned seats so everybody had to line up at the door. For an hour. And more. The start time came and went. “15 more minutes,” said a nice guy with big crazy aspiring-filmmaker hair. It got hot and stuffy. Finally crazy-hair propped the door open, took the first guy’s ticket, ripped it halfway … but then changed his mind and handed it back. He handed it back! Despair swept over the crowd.

Given the circumstances, the movie title seemed ironic

At last they let us in. They showed the Bali movie, which was pretty decent, and then they began the elephant flick. See some elephants on a boat. See the elephants get unloaded at a sanctuary. Their heavy shackles are removed in a moment of deep symbolism. The elephants bathe in the river. And then …. closing credits? Ten minutes into the movie? What kind of experimental doc is this? But wait! It’s the end of the film! They only showed us the last ten minutes of an hour-long movie! We keep sitting there for a while, expecting it to start over from the beginning. Instead, another volunteer with less-crazy hair comes in, apologizes, and shows us the exit. We walk down three flights of emergency stairs and emerge, confused, lost and grieving, in an underground parking lot.

Well, that was opening night. We’ll have to go to matinees for the rest of the week because I’m working evenings, so the crowds should be smaller. We’re going to miss the last half of the festival to go to language school in Yogya anyway. It’s all okay. It’s a movie festival! Right here in Jakarta! We just can’t be unhappy about that.