Monthly Archives: August 2011

Kingston, Itself

Before I say anything else, first I want to say Thank You to everyone who has been incredibly supportive during these difficult last few weeks. And my apologies for once again falling behind on the blog posts.

This week marks the end of the month of Ramadhan, a month of fasting, abstinence and prayer for Muslims. Ramadhan is based on the moon, beginning on the new moon that marks the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. At the following new moon, the holiday of Eid al-Fitr (in Indonesian, Idul Fitri) is observed to celebrate the return to normal life. Idul Fitri here manifests not unlike what we think of as Christmas Holiday back in the West, so for us it means 10 days off from school while the families go visit relatives all over Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. What better time to tell you all about the school than when I’m away from it for a week?

Let’s start with the basics. Folks I’ve had the pleasure of talking to in person have already heard a lot of this, but a little background never hurt anybody.

I was was in the right place at the right time on this one, for sure. Kingston has just this year begun the process of accreditation for international standards, and has just recently moved to a new campus to accommodate what the administrators hope in a few years will be a full Pre-Primary, Primary, and Secondary school. At present we are Pre-Nursery through Year 7, with plans to extend all the way to Year 11 in the next 5 years depending on enrollment.  In this expansion phase everything is a little topsy-turvey, while the school regains its footing after a big move and puts down roots with the (brand-spankin’) new secondary program. I think we’re doing a pretty good job despite all the upheaval, though it will take the staff a few years to accrue a properly-outfitted supply cupboard and get that real lived-in feel.

The school is running what’s called a “National-Plus” program, which means that it isn’t a full-fledged international school. Our students are Indonesian children rather than expats (mostly). Basically what we do is to run a curriculum in English that follows the international standards set by Cambridge University, and the core classes are taught primarily in English. However, our students are also expected to take the Indonesian National Benchmark tests, so alongside their English curriculum they do a dual, Bahasa-Indonesia curriculum that follows what they’re learning in English, as well. To give an example of what this looks like, here’s how a weekly class breakdown goes for my Year 7’s:

6 sections English language
5 sections BI (Bahasa Indonesia) – 2 Language, 1 Maths, 1 Science, 1 History
5 sections Mandarin language
6 sections Science in English
6 sections Maths in English
2 sections Geography in English
4 sections History in English
1 section Drama, 1 section Music (combined, in English)
2 sections Computer/IT studies

For Year 7, I teach the English-based science and maths, and am also privileged enough this year to teach the music/drama class as well since we have a slight teacher shortage at the moment. Such is the plight of a fledgling program in a new campus. (That, and a sometimes disconcerting lack of usable whiteboard pens. I swear they go into hiding when we are not looking.) Since this is the first year the school has offered courses at the secondary level,  we’re building a lot of the curriculum as we go along. This is great fun and a great learning experience for me as a 2nd (ish) year teacher. I also get to teach the more developed Primary 5 and Primary 6 science courses, as well.

The primary classes have slightly fewer core subject classes in favor of what’s called the IPC, or International Primary Curriculum. The IPC is a set of project-based learning modules that integrate several subject areas into a long-term unit with a specific topic focus. (Yes, Mom, I jumped up and down for joy when I heard about this, too!) For example, Primary 5 this year is doing a module called “Moving to Mars” that incorporates their science, technology, PE, and English curriculae into a quarter-long unit on human space exploration,  colonization, and human biology. It is going to be so, so cool. We’re going to “go” to Mars, figure out how to build a human habitat, learn how to exercise properly in an enclosed space, and write about our adventures as planetary explorers. Right up my alley, no? (Big fat Yes. Jim and Lisa, I hope you are reading this.)

Our students also participate in a variety of extracurricular activities, some fun and some… less fun. Two days a week we have what I like to call the “fun” ECA’s: our after-school periods range from Food Science (very popular), to Performing Arts (I teach the upper-level choir), to Athletics, to MUN and journalism. The other afternoon periods are devoted to extra classes in Mandarin, Religion (for the Indonesian Benchmarks), and a variety of Remedial courses for students who require extra help.

So, that’s the basic overview. As we get further into these posts I’ll try to regale you with stories of the Y7’s chasing a jumping spider around the room, trying to catch it so they could view it with a microscope (yeah, that happened); or the P6 students’ excitement at learning my favorite drama games (they play Zip-Zap-Zop outside at recess, how precious is that??); or my darling P5’s who cannot shut up if they try with both hands because they are too excited to tell me how the digestive system works (actually, I think some of them are just excited to be allowed to say the word “poo” in class).  Yep, I pretty much have the best job ever.

Selamat hari raya Idul Fitri, y’all!


Musik Kota Medan

It was difficult to decide what to write about next. Indonesia has so far been full of many oddities and strange experiences, so I think I’d like to give some more specifics about the sounds of the city, and maybe tell you a story or two.

Medan is a constant cacophony of honking horns, traffic whistles, revving motorcycles, and sung prayers.  The streets seem full of urgency, churning and bubbling with an almost constant flow of traffic; it’s not exactly paradise for a pedestrian, but I’ve found that Asian cities rarely are.  Off the main roads, it’s becaks (sort of like a buggy attached to the side of a motorbike — Indonesia’s version of the tuk-tuk or rickshaw) and bicycles galore, not to mention mobile food carts advertising nasi goreng (fried rice) and mie ayam (noodles with chicken), and that wretchedly popular SE Asian snack, durian pancakes. In quieter neighborhoods, one can often hear the calls of a variety of exotic finches and lorikeets, swallows, jays, wood pigeons and, if you’re really lucky, a myna bird.

Last night, I was in the middle of a dream in which I was recording some music and in the middle of that an absolutely massive clap of thunder crashed right overhead and disrupted the recording. In my dream I couldn’t BELIEVE how loud the sound had been, and I immediately called my brother to listen to this recording of this insanely loud thunderclap. I awoke from the dream when a second GIGANTIC crash sounded over the top of my bedroom, because there was in real life a huge, torrential thunderstorm going on at 3 o’clock in the morning. I have never heard thunder this loud, ever. Also, the lightning is so dramatic that I could see the flashes with my eyes closed lying in a room with the shade (okay, a sheet) drawn.

Indonesia is presently in the middle of the “dry” season, which basically means there is marginally less rain than in the “wet” season, and the torrential downpours usually happen between 8 and 10 pm rather than during the afternoon. Last weekend, which was 4 days in celebration of the beginning of Ramadhan, I had the pleasure of staying at my dear friend (and boss)’s house, and spent nearly every evening sitting out on the covered back veranda of their house with a beer to unwind the day.  Inevitably the clouds would roll in around 7 or 8 pm, and usually while I sat there I would at some point be in utter darkness as the electricity tends to go out quite a bit, especially when lightning is hitting the neighborhood transformers (I saw this one of the evenings), and I would sit and watch the lightning flash across the sky and listen as the thunder rumbled first in the distance, then came crashing in overhead, before finally fading out to be replaced by the haunting drone of the muezzins singing prayers from the nearby mosques. The whole thing was terribly beautiful in an eery, ethereal way.

Another sound to which I am slowly becoming accustomed: The call of “Hey miss!” Everyone from schoolchildren to bus drivers to bankers says this. I am greeted this way without fail every time I see one of my students, fellow teachers, or our housemaid. I found it really odd at first, especially since it extends to referring everyone by their title this way (for example, I work with a Miss Maria and a Miss Irma) and I still think it’s weird that when a colleague wants my attention, it’s “Miss?” I’m never clear to whom anyone is speaking.

I briefly mentioned this before, but my housing is provided courtesy of the school and is therefore a room in a ballet studio which is also run by the woman who is the director of our school. It’s an odd sort of living arrangement, not least because there are ballet classes going pretty much constantly from about 1pm to 6 or 7 at night, even on weekends; so my room is, during waking hours, seldom free of the thumping of many small feet to the  muffled clinkings and clankings of the studio’s pianos.

So that’s kind of what Medan sounds like, so far. I think this weekend I’ll try and delve into telling you about the school, which has definitely been the most rewarding part of life here so far. And how.

Introduction to Indonesia

I had two choices here: either keep plugging along at the various adventures from more than 4 months ago, or let chronology hang and start telling you all about my new adventures in Medan, Indonesia. I’ve decided to take the latter path.

Actually, I have a lot to tell you all, so I figured I’d begin by telling you something about where I live, and then I’ll start sharing stories later. Don’t hold me to that, though — I seem to be victim to an unfortunate condition called Narrative Tourette’s, wherein I can’t stop using anecdotes to describe things. So bear with me.

Medan was described to me as “your basic big, ugly city.” Well, to some extent that’s true – but for the better portion of last year, I lived in a concrete jungle called Shenzhen, and let me tell you, Medan certainly has got the upper hand on Shenzhen when it comes to foliage and green spaces. Indonesia is a truly tropical climate, and Medan is not exactly in the jungle but not exactly out of it, either. So a drive through the streets of the city is sort of like if you mixed a safari with the streets of Mumbai. Or something to that effect.

Speaking of the streets: there barely are any. I mean, there are roadways, but pavement is apparently a luxury item around here, because the ratio of actual paved road to gravel or dirt shoulder is far lower than that of most other places I’ve been. And I don’t know if this is true all over the country, but Medanese speedbumps are horrible, vicious things that look as though they ought to be glorified rumble strips, but in reality more resemble an earthquake faultline. The combination of deceptively steep and narrow bumps mixed with vehicles that have no shocks as far as I can tell serves to cause quite a bit of trauma to the backside, especially when one is squeezed into a van that is suppose to seat eleven all together with 14 other teachers plus the driver for a half hour every morning. This on top of still having a sore tailbone.

So it’s an adjustment. Pavement is not the only luxury item that, as a Westerner, I very much miss being able to take for granted. Fast internet is another. I have a dial-up broadband modem that connects to the internet at a speed that would shame molasses in January. Even the “good” wired and wireless connections here load a 3-minute Youtube clip in about 15 minutes, if that’s all they’re working on. Forget streaming anything. And, while we’re on the subject of Things I Miss, how about we put reliable electricity on that list? Mine goes out almost every day for anywhere between 20 minutes to 8 hours. We try not to keep anything really perishable in the fridge for more than a day. First Worlder’s problems in the Third World, I guess.

That “we”, by the way, includes my four housemates, who are also teachers at the school, and our housemaid. Yep. We have a maid. Her name is Cici (pronounced like Chee-chee) and she does all the kitchen cleaning and keeps the public part of the house presentable. There is a public part of the house because, well, we live in a working ballet studio, and the dance rooms go from the 1st floor all the way up to the 3rd, where I live, including a room on the second floor directly outside our living room/kitchen area, so the six of us also share our fridge with ballet studio snackage patrol. Cici also keeps the one single set of keys to the entire house (more on that later). I have absolutely no idea anything about her story, because she speaks only Indonesian and I am, in this country, that foreigner who really can’t speak the language. I am picking up about 3-4 words a day right now just from looking at signs as we drive by, but they are often things like “ayam” (chicken) and “ranbu” (hair) and have absolutely no usefulness in daily communication. Besides this awesome ten-year-old in the Jakarta airport (story later), I haven’t had somebody sit down and try to teach me Indonesian yet. I’m hoping to take an opportunity to change that soon.

Okay. Such is the snapshot of immediate daily life. I’m going to try to get to the school, the food, and some epic days of exploring in the next couple of posts. Soon.