A New Perspective
People ask me why I love to travel. The answer is simple. Each new place, each new experience, each new person yields a new perspective. A perspective that can only be gained by broadening one’s horizon through travel. But during my time at the international student conference at UNPAR in Indonesia, it wasn’t just traveling that gave me a new perspective. It was being surrounded students from all around the world who were broadening their horizons alongside me. When you put strangers together in a strange situation, you create something amazing.
The conference started out with somewhat of a cautious mindset. Our gracious host students took care to make sure that we were safe and comfortable wherever we went. At times, this became a little comical. For instance, when a 20 year old student is reminding their peers to come back by 10 pm curfew. Or, when students are required to purchase galoshes to trek through a little bit (or a lot bit) of mud. Or, when someone gingerly holds your arm as you cross the street or walk up a slightly slippery incline. These acts of caution were, of course, carried out with our best interest in mind. But if you really want to broaden your horizons, you have to step a little out of your comfort zone.
It started small, with something safe: food. Our second night in Bandung, one Filipino student, named AJ, decided that he wanted to try snake. So, Alex from Indonesia recommended a local restaurant that served the best python in town. When we entered the restaurant, there was a taxidermied python staring at us from the welcome counter. Comforted by the fact that I wasn’t planning to order snake as my main course, I sat down at the table and read over the menu. (We were careful to ask what the Indonesian word for “snake” was, (ular) so that we didn’t accidentally order it in a dish!) When the waitress came around, AJ ordered ular goreng, or fried snake. It came out looking a bit like chicken nuggets.
iPhone camera in hand, I watched as he took the first bite. It tasted like chicken, he reported. One by one, we each tried a bite – reactions varying from pleasantly surprised to just plain grossed out. Caroline from Australia decided that she liked the taste, but not the texture. I had to agree. The flesh tasted a bit like it had been pureéd and then reconstituted. I certainly wouldn’t choose to eat python again, but I’m no worse off for having tried it. And surprisingly enough, the snake wasn’t the dish gave Caroline a nasty stomach bug! (We’re not exactly sure what did her in…)
But it wasn’t just the food that was new and exciting. During our trip to a community activity center of sorts, we engaged in two traditional Indonesian arts – batik making and playing an angklung. Things had to be dumbed down a bit for us, but we had a blast nonetheless. First, we tried our hand at batik. As you may remember from my post about Ubud, batik is a traditional way of dying fabric to create intricate designs. First, a wax pattern is dripped onto the cloth in a pattern, sealing off certain sections that will be dyed a specific color. Then, dye (or in our case, paint) is blotted into the sections to create an image! After a few rounds of this process, all the wax is removed, and you are left with a beautifully colored textile! With our beginner batik kits, we had one pre-waxed pattern to practice painting, and one piece of fabric with a stencil for us to drip wax on. Naturally, we were given wax that was heated over an open flame so that it was approximately 1 million degrees. Celsius. (Speaking in international terms here.) Our wax vehicle was a contraption that looked a little like a teeny genie lamp on a bamboo stick. You dipped the body of the lamp into the flaming hot wax, and then slowly let it drip out through the spout. Sure, a little bit of mud and we’d better call in the safety patrol…but boiling wax? No problem!
Caroline from Australia was easily the most talented batik artist. The rest of us struggled a little…it was tough to control the speed of the wax flow, and of course staying on the lines was a challenge in itself. Add the variable of potential third degree burns, and it’s a party! Unfortunately, Thel from the Philippines dropped her wax genie lamp and flung a bit of wax on her hand, causing a nasty burn…some ice and an herbal remedy soothed it a bit, and we all crossed our fingers that it wouldn’t scar! (Speaking of – Thel, did it leave a scar?!)
After the wax incident, we decided it was time to wrap up the batik making, so we headed outside for a little music! It was raining, but we had umbrellas, so we were ready for anything! First, the angklung orchestra played us a song or two, to show us how it was done.
Each member had an array of around 10 angklungs hanging in front of them, and they shook each one to the beat to create a gorgeous melody all together! For anyone familiar with a handbell choir, picture that…but with wooden instruments instead. Watching them expertly shake each pitch to sound notes in quick succession was pretty intimidating, but we were all relieved when we were given just one pitch each to work with. The pitches were named after Indonesian islands, but they corresponded with solfège notes (do-re-mi). Our conductor used the universal hand symbols to let us know when to shake the dickens out of our angklungs. We started with long chords, but after a few minutes, he had us playing Beatles hits! It was such a rewarding feeling to start with no knowledge of how to play this foreign instrument and to be making music with a hundred other people within minutes!
After a few songs, we handed it back over to the professionals. These folks were so energetic and talented that when they played their finale, everyone ran out from the umbrellas and danced in the rain! It could not have been more cliché. Or perfect.
Lots more stories to be told – I hope you’ll come back to hear them! 🙂
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