I’m Gonna sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter (old – around 20 feb)

I’ve had to endure myself to an extent I didn’t think was necessary/possible considering how generally neurotic and self-critical I am.

But this past break and having to deal with my very angry self got me to a place where I was like, I don’t like myself anymore. I kind of loathe my really negative reactions to things. Yes, things suck here. Things suck really fucking bad here, actually. Especially compared to the lives of other Darmasiswa students currently living in Indonesia. In ways where I feel completely justified in just throwing in the towel and coming back to America.

There’s actually a lot that I can’t blog about, but if I were to use as a reason to come back to the states, any reasonable human would be like “yeah, you go and wave that white flag.” But since I am making myself stay here, now being completely aware of just how unsafe and unpleasant (invasive, rude, spying, etc, etc) the people here are, I don’t want to make myself more miserable than my suffering calls for.

I have a copy of Pema Chodron’s talks on Shanti Deva’s teachings on anger. And now I am really heavily investing myself in the teachings. It’s time for some really hardcore mind-training.

Part of what is making my experience as miserable as it has been is that I thought I was coming here to have a great time. Part of me thought I was gunna be swimming in the ocean like, every day, learning how to surf, checking out tight and bronzed bodies on the beach. This fantasy of mine is very beach-related.

Considering I am in like. Oh god. One of those nightmarish towns in Colorado that was in the documentary, Jesus Camp, it’s like, all expectations of what my idea of a good time have to be dropped. Right now, I’m just here to survive. And the Big Thing that I have to do is temper myself to deal with flagrant ignorance.

I was at the recording studio and the mother of the house, who works in the government, mind you, in anti-corruption, was asking about where I’m from. That old conversation again. But I’m not getting pissed. There’s a girl there, I’ll call her Pearl. After I give them my parents’ immigration story, Pearl asks “so are your parents from North or South Korea?” And then the mother of the house puts the edjumakayshun down on Pearl and says, “there isn’t a North or South Korea anymore. It’s just Korea now.” (!)

Even in America people will ask me the kinda silly question, North or South Korea? And I just briefly say, “people can’t go in and out of North Korea… I dunno if you’ve heard on the news how they’re always like, making nukes and shit or whatever. It’s kind of an insane communist situation over there, dude.” But hearing that the North-South thing is a thing of the past is a whole new one to me.

I just wonder where these ideas come from. Like the woman who asked me if I knew how to speak “Latin America.” Because she had seen the words “Latin America” on the news, and wondered if I knew that language. I explained to her how “Latin America” is a whole bunch of countries with lots of different cultures. And that a lot of those countries speak Spanish, variations thereof, native languages, and in the case of Brazil, Portuguese. And then she said, “oh, ok. But I just want to know if you speak Latin America.” No, because Latin America is not a language. Are you sure? I saw it on the news. Yes, I’m sure you can take whatever you misappropriate from the news because your the news in your country is a joke. Literally. In Indonesia, the evening news update uses canned laugh tracks. I was chatting with a friend and told her about it, she asked, “like America’s funniest home videos?” Yes, exactly like that. During interviews, you hear a laughter in a variety of colors; light chuckles, loud and appreciative, moderately receptive and understanding that yes, that was a joke and it was funny.

So this was just a week and a half ago… I’m in someone’s house and the news was on. They were covering this story about a girl who had beaten up another girl, so there you see video footage of the crime, someone had taken video of the incident on their cell phone. But in this footage you see other people, like standing right by the girl, also taking video. People surrounding this girl, making sure they get video of her getting slapped around by this butch girl who is on the chunky side. And… The laugh track is going this whole time you see the slapping and the chunky girl yelling and following after the skinny long-haired girl with the cowed head when she tries to make a feeble escape. The whole time, in varying levels of laughter, the canned track is going. Later, while the girl who assaulted the other girl is being interviewed by reporters in the police station (?!), there is also more laugh track. It actually was such a harsh cognitive dissonance, that I really did not know that I was watching the news. Like, does the Onion TV have a laugh track?! I don’t even think the Onion has a laugh track. Seriously, it was like watching a fucked up version of The Onion, SO WEIRD!

Every day is a new day of lowered expectations.

The headmaster of our school and his assistant were arrested for stealing 1.5 billion Rupiah. That’s a little over 1 million in US Dollars. Which is funny, because I remember seeing him in the lobby of the Administration building, showing off his new macbook air right out of the packaging it had come in. And I remembered thinking, “looks like someone went shopping with someone else’s money.” I mean, to manage something that modern in Padang Panjang is a totally not feasible. And fuck, new macbook airs are expensive in America. Like, to be an American with a macbook air is pretty like “hey, check this out.” No one owns macs here, let alone has seen a mac unless it’s one a foreigner brings in. It’s like he was showing his new Bentley in an Amish town.

And we still don’t have people taking care of our needs here on campus. No one to contact if something goes horribly wrong. I mean, there are numbers for us to call. But it’s not like they’re reliable. Or trustworthy. Or it’s not worth contacting those people because it’s not like we even want them to lie to us anymore when they say they’re going to help us but they just don’t. I swear I’m not complaining, but I feel like people need to know what it’s like here, how fucked up it is. Why I’m as desperate and lonely as I am. I need to feel justified and reasonable. In the face of complete and utter… Absurdity.

Okay.

Growing up, my violin teacher was really scary. I pride myself on not having cried at a single lesson. She was notorious for making people cry.

But she had this sign in her studio: “If all else fails, lower your expectations.”

I guess that means all else has failed, hasn’t it? Hahaha. Oh man. But I’m not disappointed in myself, although this decision has risen out of the ashes of MANY disappointments.

The teachings Shanti Deva delivered weren’t about lowering expectations, but, I have to do what I can to be more understanding. And it’s not so much about lowering my expectations but more like, asking myself what I had expected when I find myself feeling disappointed. Which, living in such a flaky city as Seattle, you’d think I’d be pretty well-acquainted with this. But this is just testing me in a whole different way to be emotionally self-sufficient, and realizing that my disappointments stem from a dependence on something outside of myself. It’s lonely-making. Really fucking lonely-making. But I have to like, not get bummed out. I’ve decided that I’m going to bolster my mood by working out in mess (circuit training and committing myself to a push-up program) and enjoying what I can, when I can.

Of Shanti Deva’s verses, this is the big one that connected with me, and I’m going to use as the foundation for my outlook on the rest of my time here because I’m sick of whining:

“So come what may, I’ll never harm my cheerful happiness of mind. Depression never brings me what I want, my virtue will be warped and marred by it.”

I’m not going to be ignorant to the truly fucked up shit around me, because I think that it is so important to be realistic. But oh my god. I’m sick of bumming my friends out when I chat or email with them and I have nothing good to say. I’m really sick of it. There is no way to be comforted in what is an inherently uncomfortable situation. And I am going to squeeze whatever I can out of this goddamned hillybilly heap.

It’s like Bobi’s booger. These things that bum me out, I just let them get to me. They get under my skin, big time, and I go to PTSD replay-ville. Which triggers every other humiliating and depressing and angry episode in my life. I would tell people: “There is no amount of money you could pay me to relive high school.” But here. I. Am. Feeling every bit as constrained and housebound, angry, depressed, helpless, misunderstood as I did when I was 15.

A lot of the time I feel like I’m in prison, really. And like, any episode that gets blogged is like a spike in the status quo of general prison suckiness. I’m sure fun and constructive stuff goes down in prison, like making shanks from objects furtively squirreled away and hootch brewed from fruit cocktail. But what really stands out in the mind when it comes to the whole character-building experience of imprisonment is feeling unsafe, the threat of getting raped, being preyed on by fellow prisoners, prison beatings, etc.

The biggest thing is that it’s my sense of entitlement that I had coming into this experience that really makes me feel screwed over, so I need to drop that in order to get on my merry way. Like, a lot of Very Significant Things happened the year before I left for Indonesia where I was like “fuck, I deserve a rad vacation.” I’m not one of those that cruise around with a grand sense of self-entitlement. I couldn’t even believe I was going to get to come here and live out this equatorial beach fantasy, it was like, unbelievable for me that I would get to relax for a year. Now that I’m thinking about it, my naïveté is kind of cute n’ funny in a pitiable sort of way. So this whole “I had a shit time, when do I get my break?” mindset is pretty much dropped anyhow, because really, to people on the outside, my whole life is a pretty rad break. Going to Indonesia, aka paradise, is a rad break. And there are some Darmasiswa students that have gotten dengue fever, wow, talk about prison beating. And I being pissed off at my Indonesian friends when they’re being obnoxious is like, well, at least I have Indonesian friends that aren’t the kind that just want a foreigner friend out of a blanket obsession with all things Western (but I think not being white contributes to this.) And when someone comes to jerk off on my front doorstep, well. I’m still trying to finagle a positive take on that one.

Another source of entitlement stems from the fact that there’s no one in charge of taking care of us at this University when this is a… Scholarship program? What? And then they take some of our money from us every month for “rent” when Mess is complimentary housing. In Indonesia, Mess is complimentary lodging sponsored by the premises where the mess is located. For instance, there was a VIP mess at the botanical gardens in Candikuning. At train stations there is Mess provided for conductors. The campus mess is for when students are working on projects well into the night and need a place to stay on campus. I would feel a little better about them (and I use them because I have no idea who it is that benefits from our monthly scholarship from the Ministry of Education in Jakarta) dipping into our monthly allowance to live here if they helped or provided for us somehow in the way of using water. But. They’re probably buying really dumb and tacky shit.

Actually, no wait. Hold on. It’s not so much a sense of entitlement as much as it is that I was deceived! I was DUPED. Because this IS a scholarship program, there ARE supposed to be people in charge, people within this program are supposed to be making sure that we are safe and comfortable and entertained, even. At the other schools, their providers take them on little all-expense paid excursions. Sometimes, even to Bali. Trang was telling me how her friends in Bandung are taken care of. It was totally discouraging and we both had to like, not get too bummed out thinking about how filthy our bathroom is and what little assistance we get from the Admininistration here.

Another thing about the school: I’m a little underwhelmed by the courses offered here. I thought I’d be making myself a better musician in my time here. But I find myself avoiding playing violin because I’m afraid it’s going to have a negative effect on my already mediocre playing. I’ve also promised myself that I am going to take lessons when I come back and get myself into shape.

And most of the teachers here only have the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree. There are instrument electives, and for those classes it’s like, the whole semester is spent on learning one song. Other bigger group classes are like, learn a handful of songs and perform them for the group. I haven’t much to say for the music in West Sumatra, unfortunately. There’s brass bells that have interlocking melodies, which is interesting. Randai is probably the most interesting performance West Sumatra has to offer, it’s theater, dance, martial arts and music combined. Sort of like a rhythmic musical. I’m really glad the theater department here hasn’t discovered Rodgers and Hammerstein. Because they would probably go nuts and perform Damn Yankees with really broken English with horrifically out of tune orchestra of 7 accompanying the motley cast, inappropriately costumed.

So, I can’t candy coat my experience here. But I can strive to be objective and share the differences here through my blog. It is going to take a lot out of me to put up with what goes down, but as someone told me before: I live for oddity.

Disappointment, I have to learn to tolerate. Lies, also I have to tolerate. Subhuman treatment, also I have to tolerate. Anger, I need to sit through and tolerate. Sadness, I need to endure. All of these things are daily lessons to varying degrees but occurring daily. And I can’t always win, they get the better of me. And it’s not that the external circumstances are bad, the external circumstances draw all of these emotions out. It’s not a loss if my blood pressure goes up and I want to punch someone’s face into the texture of baby food, not because it’s a justified rage. But I’m working on it, every day and I’ll have plenty more chances to not get pissed off in rage-inducing situations. So when I think of the people who go on meditation retreats in Northern New Mexico, I think: Pansies.

But this ridiculous situation is so me. The torment, agony, madness. And then moments of pure perfection of absurdity and the grotesque. There was a man with down’s syndrome who go out our bus to beg. He had a ukelele and started howling atonally while strumming the uke for an uncomfortable amount of time. My company was snickering like little jerks in highschool. I had the biggest smile on my face, becausw this is the shit that I live for. A moment in time that disappears in less time than it takes to be made, like a sand mandala. I had to be lured in by a university leeching money off the Indonesian government in this vast corruption scam, live on campus where the students are like the children of the corn in the mountains of West Sumatra, suffer the idiotic questions of curious voyeurs just to see this, and fuck it, it is worth it.

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