Belitung

Last Two Three Tuesdays ago, I was asked by my school (Ibu Evi, specifically) if I had ever been Belitung. Last Two Three Wednesdays ago, I was asked by Ibu Evi for my full name. Last Two Three Thursdays ago, I was taken on a surprise visit to Belitung with Ibu Evi and Ibu Kun, my headmistress. It was a quick trip, no more than 48 hours, but still pretty full of activity….

THURSDAY: Arrival and a couple of meetings.

Bangka, my home, is the seahorse-shaped island to the west of the red island. Belitung is in red, flanked by Borneo to the east and Sumatra to the west.
Bangka, my home, is the seahorse-shaped island to the west of the red island. Belitung is in red, flanked by Borneo to the east and Sumatra to the west.
Thursday we went straight from the airport to a meeting in a local university's auditorium. It was a meeting for Persatuan Guru Republik Indonesia (PGRI), the National Teacher's Association, so nearly all of the members in attendance were wearing black-and-white batik. Despite my best efforts to remain inconspicuous, Ibu Evi and I were dragged to the front and sat front and center. It's hard to be discreet in Indonesia... Anyway, this photo was taken at the dinner reception held at our hotel later that evening.
Thursday we went straight from the airport to a meeting in a local university’s auditorium. It was a meeting for Persatuan Guru Republik Indonesia (PGRI), the National Teacher’s Association, so nearly all of the members in attendance were wearing black-and-white batik. Despite my best efforts to remain inconspicuous, Ibu Evi and I were dragged to the front and sat front and center. It’s hard to be discreet in Indonesia… Anyway, this photo was taken at the dinner reception held at our hotel later that evening.
Me and Ibu Evi taking one of many selfies this weekend.
Me and Ibu Evi taking one of many selfies this weekend.
Don't be koi, darling. (Goofing off before the dinner reception.)
Don’t be koi, darling. (Goofing off before the dinner reception.)

FRIDAY: The full day of sight-seeing. It started out at the hotel, though we switched to a different hotel for the second night.

The next morning Ibu Kun has another breakfast meeting. Ibu Evi and I sit at a table next to her and take lots of pictures.
The next morning Ibu Kun had a breakfast meeting. Ibu Evi and I sat at a table next to her and took lots of pictures.
Taking pictures (...and texting..mhmmm....) at our hotel in the morning while we wait for Ibu Kun.
Taking pictures (…and texting..mhmmm….) at our hotel in the morning while we were waiting for Ibu Kun.

First Stop: Rumah Adat [Cultural House]

Our first stop was not far from the hotel. It was a traditional wooden house built on stilts. It was full of old photographs and artifacts that patrons could touch, plus just being in the house itself was an experience. The wood stayed cool even in the heat of the day, which gives little wonder as to why people of yesteryear built houses like this. Apparently it is made of teak, and the scarcity of teak wood means that there are no more homes like this built anymore.

With Ibu Evi in front of an assortment of cultural artifacts in Belitung's Rumah Adat [Culture House].
With Ibu Evi in front of an assortment of cultural artifacts in Belitung’s Rumah Adat.
I try my hand at using a traditional wheelbarrel.
I tried my hand at using a traditional wheelbarrow, apparently called a liu-liu. Back in the day (and maybe still in some rural areas) it was used to transport…. stuff.

Second Stop: Cultural Artifacts Museum

We drove perhaps 40 minutes through the outskirts of town and ended up at what turned out to be another museum. A few kindly bapaks [term of respect for older men; also literally means dad] were available to greet us and answer our questions. I took this opportunity to make some sketches in my notebook and write down new vocabulary which I will probably never have occasion to use. It turns out that before Ibu Kun became headmistress she was a Bahasa Indonesia teacher, so she was able to help me with my pronunciation, spelling, and such.

The statue standing guard over the cultural artifacts museum.
The statue standing guard over the cultural artifacts museum.
Cases holding artifacts including spears, the antecedents of rice cookers, water basin, and others.
Cases holding artifacts including spears, the antecedents of rice cookers, water basins, and other items.
Signing the museum's guestbook before taking our leave.
Signing the museum’s guestbook before taking our leave.

Third Stop: Museum Kata [Literary Museum]

Museum Kata literally means Word Museum, and I didn’t know what to expect from this stop. Not having expectations is a good thing, but even if I did have expectations I would not have been disappointed. Museum Kata was amazing and perhaps one of my favorite places that I have been in Indonesia thus far. It was colorful. It was whimsical. It was dedicated to the written word. It even had coffee AND postcards. I could have stayed all day if we didn’t have more sightseeing to do. I’ll let the photos of the placards in the front room of the museum explain Andrea Hirata and Laskar Pelangi.

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Sign Number 5 just had pictures of aforementioned awards and newspaper mentions.

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I will say that anytime I mention Belitung to local people in Bangka, EVERYONE asks if I have seen Laskar Pelangi the movie yet. I have not, though apparently it is available on YouTube. Soon I’ll watch the movie though I am currently hunting for the book in English to get the full experience.

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Now that we have some context for Museum Kata, here are a few pictures of the museum which sprawled through several buildings and a few gardens/patios. It was awesome and I hope my house is as warm and welcoming someday.

Finally arrived! A powerful pose by the front sign.
Finally arrived! A powerful pose by the front sign.
Even the shop next door had colorful, painted bottles strung up to add some festive flavor.
Even the shop next door had colorful, painted bottles strung up to add some festive flavor.
Another welcoming sign with the Indonesian flag proudly flying above.
Another welcoming sign with the Indonesian flag proudly flying above.
Same sign but more beautiful with me in the photo too! Haha
Same sign but more beautiful with me in the photo too! Haha
We happened to be at the museum during Zhuhur, or the call to prayer around noon. This mosque across the street opens its doors to anyone who wants to pray whether they are from the community or not.
We happened to be at the museum during Zhuhur, or the call to prayer around noon. This mosque across the street opens its doors to anyone who wants to pray whether they are from the community or not.
One of several nice murals outside of the museum.
One of several nice murals outside of the museum.
Photo ops abound inside the museum! Here I am with Mr. Hirata sharing a cup of coffee at a cafe.
Photo ops abound inside the museum! Here I am with Mr. Hirata sharing a drink at a cafe.
Me and Ibu Evi grab another photo op.
Me and Ibu Evi grab another photo-op.
Even the windows don't escape decoration in this museum.
Even the windows don’t escape decoration in this museum.
Copies of Laskar Pelangi in different languages are on display on the walls. It is acutally pretty cool to see the same book in so many languages with different illustrations, side by side.
Copies of Laskar Pelangi in different languages are on display on the walls. It is actually pretty cool to see the same book in so many languages with different illustrations, side by side.
Literary paraphernalia was everywhere.
Literary paraphernalia was everywhere.
And I mean EVERYWHERE.
And I mean EVERYWHERE.
I almost died laughing when I saw this. You've heard of William Shakespeare and of Britney Spears, but who would have thought they would go so well together.
I almost died laughing when I saw this. You’ve heard of William Shakespeare and of Britney Spears, but who would have thought they would go so well together. Hilarious.
There was even a post office with POSTCARDS and stamps! These were the first postcards I managed to find in Indonesia thus far. I nearly bought them out but admittedly have yet to mail anything.
There was even a post office with POSTCARDS and stamps! These were the first postcards I managed to find in Indonesia thus far. I nearly bought them out but admittedly have yet to mail anything.
While I was wandering the museum on my own, reading caption after caption (in English!), I heard a fellow museum patron say to another (in Indonesian) "Do you think she can speak Indonesian?" I had just walked into the room and knew for sure they were talking about me. I did one of those slow, film-quality head turns and made eye contact. "Bisa." I can. They looked a little stunned, then squealed and instantly asked to take pictures. We did the usual getting-to-know-you questions and within five minutes I was adopted by a new family that was originally from Bangka but had scattered, mostly to Jakarta. They were having a family reunion and invited me to join them to go snorkeling at a famous island nearby the following day, plus I was invited to stop by any time in Jakarta. The friendliness of Indonesian people is constantly surprising, often a little overwhelming, but always sincere. We exchanged numbers and I imagine I will see this family (especially Egga, the exuberant one in the black jilbab) again someday.
While I was wandering the museum on my own, reading caption after caption (in English!), I heard a fellow museum patron say to another (in Indonesian!) “Do you think she can speak Indonesian?” I had just walked into the room and knew for sure they were talking about me. I did one of those slow, film-quality head turns and made eye contact. “Bisa.” I can. They looked a little stunned, then squealed and instantly asked to take pictures. “Lima ribu.” Five thousand, my usual price per photo, I told them with a straight face. More stunned looks then everyone burst into laughter because of course I was kidding. We took pictures and did the usual getting-to-know-you questions and within five minutes I was adopted by a new family that was originally from Bangka but had scattered, mostly to Jakarta. They were having a family reunion and invited me to join them to go snorkeling at a famous island nearby the following day, plus I was invited to stop by any time in Jakarta. The friendliness of Indonesian people is constantly surprising, often a little overwhelming, but always sincere. We exchanged numbers and I imagine I will see this family (especially Egga, the exuberant one in the black jilbab) again someday.

Fourth Stop: SMAN1 Belitung-Timor

One of Ibu Kun’s friends is the headmistress of SMAN1 Belitung-Timor (Senior Public High School 1 in Eastern Belitung). We stopped by the school to pay her a visit, see the school, and check out their up-and-coming computer lab. It also turns out that another American teaches at the school. He had just left when I arrived, but a quick phone call later and he was on his way back to school.

That’s how I met the first American in Indonesia outside of the ETA program. Other bules [foreigners, especially white foreigners] are hard to come by in PKP, so I was excited to meet this teacher and hear his story. While we waited, I almost felt like I was waiting to meet a long-lost cousin.

His name is Chris, and he is married to another American named Melissa. They have been living in various cities in Indonesia for almost nine years now. They have three kids, all of whom have been raised mostly in Indonesia and speak English and Indonesian (and regional dialects) pretty well. He envisions being in Belitung for a few more years to come because, as he said, there is still a lot of work to be done in the community. Power to you, Chris and Melis!

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From left to right: the two bapaks that drove us around all day and whose names I never quite figured out; Ibu Evi in red; the headmistress of SMAN1 Belitung-TImor; Chris; Pak Sodik, who apparently works in Jakarta but has business with Ibu Kun since he has been hanging around our school since this trip; me; Ibu Kun.

Fifth Stop: Buddhist Temple

We actually drove around for a bit after visiting the school, stopping for lunch at a small warung (where the proprietor was endlessly questioned about his use of fish sauce in various dishes. I am glad I wasn’t placed on Belitung because literally EVERYTHING has fish in it). We dropped off paperwork at a few random houses and then stopped to stretch our legs at a Buddhist temple, though I later found out that we had actually stopped at the temple to wait for the headmistress of SMAN1 to catch up with us because Ibu Kun had forgotten one of her phones at school. Ah well is was a nice break to get out of the car.

A Chinese Buddhist temple in the middle of a small town in Eastern Belitung.
A Chinese Buddhist temple in the middle of a small town in Eastern Belitung.

Sixth Stop: Pantai Tanjng Tinggi

Our last stop of the day was at a beautiful beach that was the setting for part of the film Laskar Pelangi. It was drizzling when we got there but that didn’t deter us from taken tons of photos. We parked by some rocks and took pictures, then drove down a little ways to where there were fewer rocks and a better view of the water. I was dying to go for a swim both because the water was beautiful and because I had a major case of BO. After repeatedly saying how much I wanted to go in the water, a spare t-shirt and shorts appeared for me. I went with Ibu Evi to change behind some rocks and then immediately dove in. It was fabulous and I still so happy I went in. Supposedly we will come back to Belitung as a school next fall, but why put off until tomorrow what you can do today?

One of the easy-to-spot tourism signs declaring this beach's importance in the film Laskar Pelangi.
One of the easy-to-spot tourism signs declaring this beach’s importance in the film Laskar Pelangi.
Playing on the rocks.
Playing on the rocks.
Dad I know you would totally be on this pose if you were here.
Dad I know you would totally be on this pose if you were here.
I practically went swimming in my regular attire, which is probably what convinced a local warung proprietor to lend me some clothes for swimming.
I practically went swimming in my regular attire, which is probably what convinced a local warung proprietor to lend me some clothes for swimming.
The beach itself is stunning and I wish I had more time to explore.
The beach itself is stunning and I wish I had more time to explore. I think I will be back.
The sunset we saw on the way back to the home from Tanjung Tinggi.
The sunset we saw on the way back to the home from Tanjung Tinggi.

Friday evening we got back after sunset. I bunked with Ibu Evi again. Unbeknownst to me, she called a cab to take us around for the evening. We went oleh-oleh [souvenir] shopping and then had dinner. The cab driver was so friendly that I thought he was a friend or a cousin of hers and he even sat with us during dinner, insisting that we nongkrong (hang out, as I understand from this ETA’s post). I asked about it later and she had never met him before in her life. That’s just the “friendliness factor” at work in Indonesia.

SATURDAY

Not much to say about Saturday. We got up at the usual Indonesian time of quarter to six a.m., had breakfast, and then I fiddled around on my tablet while we waited to go to the airport. This was a quick trip, but we squeezed a lot in on Friday that made it all worthwhile.

Getting some work done in the hotel lobby before we left for the airport.
Getting some work done in the hotel lobby before we left for the airport.
Home sweet home in PKP with Ibu Kun and Pak Sodik.
Home sweet home in PKP with Ibu Kun and Pak Sodik.

Belitung: a beautiful island where there is still plenty left to see. Something tells me I will be back.

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