CLS Week 4: Finding the Fun in Language Learning

The first two weeks of classes were a little bit on the sulit (difficult) side for me, but this past week as been so much more enjoyable.  Classes are still a lot of work, and the schedule is a bit harrowing, but since I began feeling better and felt more able to settle into this new routine, I have felt my spirits lift, and this week has floated by with the same happy buoyancy.


Yes, this actually happened.  

Classes have continued to be both challenging and interesting.  We spent a fair amount of time this week on various tata bahasa (grammar) that by this point I sort of know how to use instinctively, because they are necessary in both formal and informal, but never fully understood.  It was fun to have a fuller list of them than just what I knew from my own limited vocabulary, and one of my lovely teachers is going to help me develop an even fuller list of one which piqued my interest because I have a working theory that something quite phonologically interesting is going on with that daftar kata-kata (list of words).  (I can’t tell you how thankful I am that they are so tolerant of my endless questions that are very clearly not motivated by pure language learning, but rather my fascination with all the fun linguistic things that happen in Bahasa Indonesia.)


Trying my hand at batik.

This week not only did I continue with my menari (dance) elective class, but my batik elective class finally began as well!  I have a mild obsession with the many wonderful kain (fabrics) of Indonesia, as anyone who has seen my wardrobe knows, and batik is definitely one of my favorites.  I have wanted to learn how to make it for years now, and finally, through CLS, I get my chance to try my hand at it!  We spent the first class tracing over a pre-drawn traditional motif with malam (“wax” or “paraffin,” but also the word for night, which I really like), using a canting, a traditional too used for applying the wax to the fabric.  It was certainly challenging; there is actually a tradition of saying that women who make batik make the best istri (wives), because they have to be so sabar (patient).  I had a lot of fun joking about this throughout class, and I was also pleased to see that I was beginning to get the knack of batik by the end of our first session.  We will add color to our fabric next week, and I cannot wait!


Dog cafe!  

Because I was no longer rushing home every day to rest away my illness, I was able to have some fun with my tutor time as well.  We went to several cafes together, including a dog café, which was possibly the most enjoyable place I have ever mengerjakan P.R. (done my H.W.—P.R. is short for pekerjaan rumah, or literally home work).

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Considering I haven’t painted since early high school… I’ll take it!   

We took another class trip this week, this time to Batu, a small neighboring city that is famous for it’s agritourism.  We got to explore kebun jambu (guava orchards), memetik jeruk (pick oranges), and eat raw sayur-sayuran (vegetables), a rare treat in a country where most vegetables are stir fried or boiled.  Following our morning at the orchards and adjacent farm, we visited a local artist whose paintings act as criticism of the interaction between the “modern” era and traditional practices, influence from foreign powers, among other topics.  The paintings were compelling, and I wish more people had a chance to see them.  After touring his studio, the artist, Pak Slamat, provided us with some painting supplies and canvases, and we spent the afternoon working on our own lukisan-lukisan (paintings).  I won’t say that mine was genius, but it was still a really enjoyable afternoon.  After lunch all of the classes visted Coban Rondo, a beautiful waterfall I have actually had the privilege of visiting once before.  One of our assignments over the weekend was to make a vlog about our time in Batu, and you can watch it here.  (It’s all in Bahasa Indonesia, and I did not subtitle it, but I feel like it’s still fun to watch.  Plus you get to meet Mbak Lo, one of the people in my class, and she’s awesome!)

In many ways CLS feels like a language-learning summer camp, complete with games and weekend trips.  It sometimes feels a bit strange to be in Indonesia and not working at an actual job, as that is what I have always done before, but I have decided that maybe my best approach to these next few weeks is to embrace all of this.  Of course, this is not to say that I am not working hard as well (those many hours of P.R. each night are not to be laughed at), but I am overjoyed that learning Indonesian, something that I always had to work into an already packed schedule, is my only real task here, and the various outings and cultural classes are simply wonderful.  I’m channeling my inner Mary Poppins, finding the fun, and loving my time with CLS thus far.


Food of the Week: Rujak.  Rujak is a type of food served with a sauce that is both spicy and sweet (a combination I wish America did more of).  There are many different versions, but my favorite is the fruit version, which we were served while we were in Batu this weekend.  The fresh fruit, the spicy and sweet sauce… it was all perfect.


Word of the Week: Bekas Pacar.  I would promise that not all of my words of the week will be related to dating, but as these seem to always be the most amusing words, I’m going to aim towards not making a pembohong (liar) of myself.  But earlier this week we learned the word bekas, which means “leftovers.”  (If you are wondering why I never learned this in the three years I lived in Indonesia, it is clearly because you have never been fed by an Indonesian mother.)  Our guru-guru (teachers) did not hesitate to inform us that another, less-polite way of referring to your mantan (ex) is bekas pacar, or “boyfriend/girlfriend leftovers.”  We’ve been having fun with this phrase ever since.




Person(s) of the Week:  Murid-muridku.  (My students.)  As I was headed to buy batik with some of my fellow mahasiswa CLS the other day, I heard someone call out “Miss Grace!”  Much to my surprise, I had run into a group of my past students from Gorontalo!  While I anticipate being able to see some of my students from Malang when I have time a bit later, I never imagined I would be able to meet up with my students from Gorontalo, as it is so far away.  But it turns out several of them are kulia (going to university) in Malang.  We have plans to see one another in the next few weeks, and I could not be more excited.


CLS Week 2 and 3: Welcome to CLS’s Newest Attraction: The Roller Coaster  

I love roller coasters.   I love their fast pace, the thrill of not knowing which way my body will be thrown next, and even the way I am entirely unsure as to which way is up at the end of the ride.

But I also like to take a break after a few rides.

Though I know Indonesia is probably one of the most unpredictable places on the planet, every time I visit again I convince myself that this time I’ll have everything in hand and be able to handle whatever it throws at me this round.

I’m always wrong.

Classes started two weeks ago, and they have been a healthy challenge.  Because I am in the second highest level, I am expected to speak formal Indonesian throughout class, and this has proven difficult, as I am still trying to remember the informal Indonesian I once knew.  Though I have made opportunities for myself to practice Indonesian while I was in grad school this past year, but most of those conversations have been about food and, well, mostly food.  I do have the ability to talk about more serious topics using informal Indonesian, but I need to wait for those words to return to me.  I remember more and more setiap hari (each day), but it has taken some time for it to come back.  Objectively I know that I just need to be patient with myself, but with more and more formal Indonesian being expected of me each day, the pressure is real, as are my stress levels.


Guess which one is me?  

I also managed to get sick the first week of classes, and it wasn’t until today that I actually started feeling better (about a week and a half after I first fell ill, for context) which hasn’t made anything easier.  Everyone in my host family was sakit flu (sick with some kind of flu-like illness), and so it was only a matter of time.  If I wasn’t already tired from the long days of classes and other activities (CLS really knows how to create a packed schedule), not sleeping due to an inability to breathe certainly didn’t help the situation.  I took my first weekly test feverish and almost totally out of it and had to leave my second test halfway through because I was feeling too dizzy to concentrate (we have weekly exams every Friday), which did not make the experience all that pleasant, but I dawned my masker (mask) like a true Indonesian and pushed through as best I could.

After the first week of classes there was a weekend trip to the Kebun Teh Wonosari Wonosari Tea Plantations, where we practiced our Indonesian through interviewing pemetik teh (tea pickers) and visiting the pabrik teh (tea factory).  I love tea, and I have loved learning about different kinds of food processing since I spent a year learning about the process of making different dairy products as part of the Junior Dairy Leader Program in high school, so I really enjoyed the trip.  I was still feeling pretty darn weak, so I wasn’t able to join all of the permainan Bahasa (language games) that we played in the afternoon, but I was at least able to watch from the sidelines.  This cohort has a wonderfully fun personality, and it was so much fun to see that in action, even if only from the sidelines.

During our second week of classes our Monday kelas elektif (elective classes) started.  My Monday elective class is tarian (dance), and we are learning a traditional dance from Banyuwangi, a city on the far end of Java, just across the water from Bali.  I was briefly enrolled in ballet when I was in kindergarten but have not really had anything to do with dance since then, so I was a bit nervous about the class.  But our teacher is sangat sabar (very patient), and so much of my nerves have been waved away.  I definitely struggled through the class just because I was feeling quite


Killing ond of the pemainan behasa.  Photo credit to a fellow CLS member, Mas Eden.  

Wednesday our other kelas elektif should have started (I will be taking batik, which I am very excited about, so stay tuned), but as it was the American Independence Day there was a celebration in its place.  We played permainan Bahasa before the celebration began, and this time I was able to participate a little, because I was beginning to get my lungs back.  That evening there were performances by the mahasiswa (students) of CLS as well as their guru-guru (teachers) and tutors.  We each sang one another’s national anthems, several folks sang, danced, or even played the cello, and even I was roped into teaching everyone the Cupid Shuffle.  The night ended with fireworks and a dance party, and it was by far the most memorable July 4th I have ever had.

Just two days after this amazing celebration, however, the entire CLS cohort learned that Pak Widodo, one of the leaders of the program, had passed away.  He was a sweet man, and though I had only had a few conversations with him, I was sad to think of not seeing him at lunch every day, helping students to practice their Indonesian.  Someone close to me also passed away the week before in America, and so another death was difficult news to process.  The entire CLS family went to his home together to visit the family, as is tradition in Java, and this solidarity was somehow quite heartwarming, even though it was still sad.

This Saturday Kelas Manggis (Class Mangosteen, my class), had a fieldtrip alongside Kelas Durian (the class above us) to various religious sites in and near Malang.  Our first stop was Masjid Tiben (Tiben Mosque), a beautiful mosque not far outside of Malang.  It is rumored that this mosque was built in one night because its initial construction happened so fast, but in truth all of its construction is done by the santri pesantren (a pesantren is a type of private Islamic school, and santri is the special name for students who attend such a school).  The mosque is still currently being built, and so the students work on it every morning, and study in the afternoon and evening.  The building is stunning, and I wish we had had more time to explore.

We also visited Kelenteng Eng Ang Kiong (Eng Ang Kiong Temple), a temple within the city limits.  This temple does triple the work of your average temple in Indonesia, as it serves the Confucianist, Tao, and Buddhists populations nearby.  This temple was actually along my route into the city of Malang from where I lived as a first-year ETA, and so I passed by several times and even stopped to look inside once.  But this was the first time I had entered with a guide, and so it was exciting to learn more about this place that was in some ways so familiar.

The highs are high and the lows are low when you’re on the other side of the world.  In the past two weeks, I have found myself hiding in a toilet jongkok (squat toilet) cubicle taking a moment to just cry about how impossible formal affixes are when you can barely focus on sitting at your desk, and I have also smiled my most genuine smiles in the best of moments, both big and small (and in truth, those small moments might just be more powerful than the big; as I was finishing up this blog on the balcony just now, one of the other people who live in my boarding house came home, and I got to sit and chat with her a bit, and it was one of the nicest moments I have had in Malang thus far).

Roller coasters are never a smooth ride.  That’s just not how they work.  But even if I might experience a little bit of whiplash, and sometimes feel a bit queasy after a few rides, this doesn’t deter me from getting back on.  Despite any discomfort I might feel along the way, the ride is worth it.



A whole delicious wheelbarrow of unprocessed tea leaves.

Food of the Week: Teh Hitam.  Menurutku (in my opinion) the teh (tea) in Indonesia is paling enak (the most delicious).  I both drank and ate a fair amount while CLS visited the Kebun Teh Wonosari this past weekend, and it both soothed my sore throat and fed my soul.


Word of the Week: Bercinta.  This is not a word I will likely need any time soon, but it comes with a funny story.  We were learning about the prefix Ber- at one point in class, and one of the uses of this prefix is to express the idea of feeling an emotion (so bersedih means to feel sad). Cinta is the Indonesian word for love, and so I asked if bercinta was an option.  All the teachers immediately tertawa (laughed), and so I knew right away that I had said something a little off.  Ternyata (turns out), bercinta does not mean to feel love, but rather to make love.  It’s a good thing I made this mistake in class and not out on the streets of Malang!


Person(s) of the Week:  There have been a couple of mahasiswa CLS who have also fallen victim to various illnesses in first two weeks of class, but folks are doing the best they can to fight off their colds, stomach issues, and other illnesses and have been still coming to class and CLS activities when I think many other people would have given in and stayed in bed.  I know may of them probably don’t feel this way (it’s hard to feel good about yourself when you’re feeling ill anywhere, but I think that it’s especially hard in a place so different from the States, like Indonesia), but they are all rock stars, and we are all routing for a quick recovery.