From Prison to Superstition: Rural Africa 101

Where can I reflect on life, find out my future, and meet the most down-to-earth people? A South African village homestay, of course. 

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My host bro Lwandle and I make a great band! Here he is with a drum I brought him from Indonesia.

After 6 weeks in Durban, it’s time to move on! Before flying to Cape Town for my news media internship, I spent a week livin’ it up in a village not far from Durban. Besides sleeping 10 hours a day (how did I do that?), tossing my basic Zulu phrases at locals, and adjusting to outdoor loos, this goody tooshoo Christian consulted a local fortunate teller, went to a prison, and heaven forbid—had to navigate her lost self home without Google Maps!

Read below for my South Africa Rural Life 101:

Rural life is… a foodie’s delight

My plates here in the village have been absolutely stacked with food! They often have pap, a corn-based porridge, or rice as the staple. My host family also dishes out pickled beets, potato salad, and some form of chicken. Come breakfast time I count on cornflakes, and for snacks there’s fresh apples and bananas. Custard and biscuits (cookies) make their way for dessert. Don’t you love home cookin’?

 

Rural life is… the natural life

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I love rhinos!!!

The village is a hiker’s paradise. Why? For every road that exists, there’s always shortcut paths that cross through farm fields and homes. And did I mention I’m staying near the ocean? That means BEACHSIDE HIKES!!!

I’ve also spotted numerous wild animals during my rural homestay. I took a day croc and hippo cruise at Saint Lucia Estuary before going on a game drive in Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park. There I saw giraffes, zebras, antelope, and the #1 animal in the world I’ve yearned to find: rhinos!

 

Rural life is… a mystical fright

At the village I visited a sangoma, a traditional South African fortune teller. Here’s how her fortune-telling visits go:

  1. You enter a dimly lit hut and sit down on a mat. The sangoma is sitting on an adjoining mat with 6 candles, a plate of burning incense, and a bag of bones in front of her. She appears to be praying.
  2. The sangoma greets you and asks for your first and last name.
  3. The sangoma aggressively yawns, utters words you don’t understand, stirs the incense, and then tosses the bag of bones across the hut’s floor.
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Getting my fortune told by a legit sangoma (traditional Zulu fortune teller) was one of the most unique experiences I’ve had. Thankfully most of my fortune was positive!

This is how the sangoma speaks to the ancestors. Then comes the fortune telling part, which she interprets from the bones’ positions. In my case, however, she didn’t examine the bones until after she moved her boob up and down. Her boob pains prompted her to say something about my family life, and it was spot-on. I nodded wide-eyed, almost believing in her magic, when her phone rang. She answered it.

When she got off the phone I started to doubt her. Nevertheless, her future-tellings weren’t too far-fetched…besides me becoming bisexual. She affirmed that I’d been deeply affected by my grandparents’ deaths on my mom’s side (true!) and prophesied that one day I’d develop migraine headaches like my mom (not unlikely).

What sealed my half-faith in the lady was her claim that she’s a Christian who deciphers between praying to God and consulting the ancestors. Maybe our ancestors might know something after all!

 

Rural life is… within a prison’s sight

Besides having my fortune told during my rural getaway, I visited a prison. Mtunzini Correctional Facility is an all-male prison for inmates with sentences of 5 years or less. My task there was to talk with inmates as part of the Phoenix Prison Program, an organization that helps inmates reflect on what put them behind bars and consider their plans for after their release.

I was disgruntled by numerous things during my 2 days there. Inmates often had to share razors, didn’t have enough soap, and weren’t allowed to pursue any education.

Though many inmates endured less-than-ideal conditions, I found them inspiring. They helped me to appreciate the little things in life. Like rice. An inmate remarked how long it had been since he’d eaten rice. The inmates also taught me that there’s no excuse for lack of creativity. My last day there they put on a talent show by rapping, rubber boot drumming, and reading original poetry. The different buttons, zippers, and pockets on each of their orange prison suits was another testament to their inventiveness!

 

Rural life is… The Life

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One of life’s simplest pleasures is chewing a piece of sugar cane and tasting its sweet juices.

My rural homestay was relaxing and refreshing, but why was it so great? Locals greeting me with “sawubona,” my 8-year-old host brother and I singing and drumming together, and the Generations soapie playing on my TV every night at 8; learning to accept the bucket method of bathing; brushing my teeth under the stars, the frogs hopping between my feet; and realizing how charming and priceless the rural life is.

 

 

 

As always, there’s more photos! My experiences may best be described below…

First from my rural getaway:

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My rural host family (from left): Thulani, Lwandle, me, and Zinhle.
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The day before my safari, my friend Nell and I hiked at Amatikulu Nature Reserve where we saw these giraffes.

And these are my final Durban memories:

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I won a chilli-eating competition! Here I am alongside my fellow heat-lovin’ competitors at the Mumbai Spiceworks Chilli-Eating Contest in Durban. Sad fact: the guy on the far right shed tears after losing.
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I missed strawberry season in my hometown, but made sure to make it for South Africa’s! Preparing strawberry shortcake for my Durban host family meant my great-grandma’s recipe is spreading to a whole new continent!
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I’m obsessed with everything about India. That’s why meeting Ela Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s granddaughter, made me so happy!
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This is bunny chow, a Durban specialty inspired by its Indian community. It’s a loaf of bread cut open and filled with bean or meat curry inside.
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After doing the Monster Veggie Burger Challenge at one of Durban’s Indian restaurants, I got the feeling that competitive eating may be in my veins.
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Here I am with the Super Burger employees on Florida Road, Durban’s hip dining destination. After not getting a good enough wifi signal at other places, these guys gave their secret wifi password to me…and a complementary slice of cheese!

 

 

 

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Birthday Week in Moçambique

Tasting peri-peri chicken and experiencing Afro-Portuguese culture made my 21st birthday celebration unique indeed.

I’ve never spent my birthday in another country before, so Mozambique was as good a place as any for my first international birthday. It was for perhaps my biggest birthday yet- I’m 21-years-old now! I would’ve been thrilled traveling anywhere if there was ice cream, Indian food, and a few trails to meander around. Mozambique had all that… plus a load of other surprises. If you’re hunting for your next birthday getaway, here’s why Mozambique is not a bad option:

  1. Portuguese-inspired dining

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    This is matapa (right dish), a traditional Mozambican seafood composed of cassava leaves, groundnut/coconut and crabs and served with porridge (left dish). It tastes like a spinachy seafood soup.

    Most African food I’ve eaten consists of a corn porridge, meat, and perhaps some veggies. In Mozambique, however, dining is relatively diverse. Mozambique’s well-known for its spicy peri-peri chicken, cashews, and seafood. Since it was colonized by Portugal, its streets also boast Portuguese bakeries. You have to try pastel de nata, which is an egg tart dusted with cinnamon. What a treat! My favorite food I ate in Mozambique was mango gelato (an Italian food, I confess) from a local bakery  in Maputo, Mozambique’s capital. I scarfed down a bowl 3 nights in a row!

  2. A chance to brush up on your Spanish

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    My study abroad friends and I enjoying gelato and socializing at a local Portuguese bakery in Maputo, Mozambique. From the left is Kelly, Nell, Lily, and I.

    After 2 months in an intensive Indonesian language program, my Spanish skills have become atrocious! I only realized this after testing them in Mozambique, where I had been told I’d be better off using Spanish than English when interacting with locals. Portuguese is Mozambique’s national language, and though it’s not identical to Spanish, it’s quite similar. While crafting phrases in my head was a nightmare, I was able to translate most signs decently well.

  3. The best marketplace in southern Africa

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    Batik paintings at the FEIMA Market in Maputo.

    One of my favorite parts about traveling is shopping at local markets. However, what I’ve realized is that southern African markets basically all sell the same products. Maputo’s FEIMA Market is a true exception. It had the coolest, most colorful batik paintings! Venders also offered many handmade baskets and unique woodwork that I had not encountered before. My only complaint was that prices were not cheap (yet still low for American standards).

  4. Fabulous ocean views

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    Maputo’s view of the Indian Ocean…and a jetski.

    Although most tourists go to Mozambique to visit its beaches in the Bazaruto Archipelago to the north, I argue there’s plenty to do in Maputo. While its beaches are not swim-friendly, there’s space to walk around, watch zillions of little crabs budge out of sand holes, drink fresh coconut water, and take pics of the clear ocean alongside the city skyscrapers.

  5. The closest you’ll get to North Korea

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    This statue of Mozambique’s first president Samora Machel was sent to Mozambique by North Korea.

    Because Mozambique is a socialist state, it’s received support from Cuba, Russia, and—you guessed it—North Korea. In fact, in 2011 a Pyongyang-based business sent a large statue of Mozambican father Samora Machel to be erected in the middle of Maputo, where it stands today. A couple miles away there’s also Kim Il Sung Avenue, which borders Mao Tse Tung Avenue! Although my political beliefs are far from socialist or communist, my time in Mozambique and South Africa have made me appreciate the good work done by people professing those ideologies. Historically many Mozambicans have been educated in Cuba. Additionally, countless of South Africa’s greatest anti-apartheid proponents were members of the South African Communist Party.

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Sthembeka and I enjoying some ice cream on our big day, after Sthembeka couldn’t stand her seafood meal’s stench.

 

What can I say?! My Mozambican birthday was exceptional, but did I need to visit another country for such memories? Perhaps my greatest experiences happened in my “home” town of Durban, South Africa. There I celebrated the eve of my birthday with my host sister, Sthembeka, who would turn 10 a day after I turned 21. Highlights of our celebration are as follows:

 

  • Watching Hotel Transylvania 3 (in 3D)- Sthembeka had never been to a movie theatre before, let alone watched a 3D film!
  • Eating decadent seafood- Sthembeka ordered the seafood platter, but didn’t like it after smelling it enter the table. What a pity for her…but a delight for her Gogo (Zulu for “grandmother”) and I!
  • Exchanging gifts- I gave Sthembeka chopsticks (she’d wanted to learn to use them while I wanted to teach her), a diary with a lock (something I always wished for as a kid), and dominoes. I in turn received a cute note, beads, and local chocolate.

As I revel in my 21st birthday’s awesomeness, I encourage you to begin planning your next big one. Are you hitting the brink of middle age at 30? Perhaps you’re approaching the half century mark or are three quarters of the way there! It doesn’t matter because it’s never too late to start planning…or treating everyday like your big day!

 

Other memorable moments in Mozambique:

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At Maputo’s cashew market, I bought ½ kilo (1.1 lb.) of cashews.
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Pastel de nata is an egg custard pastry with cinnamon sprinkled on top.
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I asked a local produce vender if I could take a photo in front of her booth. This photo looks so staged now!
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Here’s a male blue-headed tree agama I found on a tree near the FEIMA Market.
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YIKES!!! A doll-faced, full-sized mannequin made an appearance at the FEIMA Market.

…Back in South Africa, I’ve recorded some other birthday week moments:

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What a thrill to watch a horse race at Greyville Race Course in Durban! My first live horse race!
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Celebrating South Africa’s Heritage Day by having a braii (barbecue) with the Durban Ramblers hiking club after a 10 kilometer (about 6 miles) hike! Nell (at left) and I grilled boerewors (Afrikaans for “bratwursts”). It was my first time grilling meat.

 

Hhayibo, Afrika!

Why do so many people mistake Africa for a country? It’s a continent! Maybe if we truly understood the vast diversity within Africa, we’d rethink our terminology. The first 2 weeks of my South Africa study abroad program have taught me just how unique the country South Africa is.

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After church with Sthembeka, my host sister in Durban. She is 9-years-old and has a birthday on September 20! Since mine is September 19, we’re planning a joint celebration!

South Africa is not like the rest of Africa. For one thing, there’s white people. I’m assumed to be white South African here… until my American accent begs to differ. The country also has significant disparities. I drive through a suburb of posh gated estates displaying Jaguars and BMWs, but less than a minute later observe a township of crowded, racially homogenous informal settlements.

What perhaps captures my attention most about South Africa is that it’s like Africa and the West fused into one. There’s villages that still prioritize tribal leadership, crowded mini-buses that daily bring black workgoers from the cities’ fringes to its interior, and an eclectic mix of African songs and dances. Yet there’s also paved roads, widespread electricity and 4G networks, skyscrapers comparable to any European city, and restaurants that know what hot dogs, burritos, and smoothies are.

After spending the first 2 weeks of my fall semester at the School for International Training (SIT) in Durban, here’s what else has surprised me most about South Africa:

  • South Africans understand Indian cooking

Did you know that Durban, South Africa has the largest South Asian population    outside of South Asia? Since I’m staying in Durban until October, that means I have heavenly food available daily! Indian food aside, I’ve sampled plenty of other unique foods here, including

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Here I am dabbing my fork into cow head meat. My smile is genuine- the meat tastes amazing!

~Peri-peri: an African hot sauce I like to douse everything with! It is made from bird’s eye chillies, onions, peppers, garlic, and lemons.

~Cow head: meat from a cow’s noggin sold at the cow head market section of Durban’s Warwick Market. It’s also perhaps the most tender, satisfying meat my tastebuds have met!

  • Animals in South Africa can be dangerous yet entertaining

South Africa has the black mamba and green mamba, both of which have bites that can cause death within 6 hours if not treated. These snakes are aggressive too, so SIT’s doctor warned my fellow SIT students not to search for them under our beds! If we ever see snakes, we should call the Durban’s snake catcher. Another familiar animal here is the vervet monkey, of which I’m also not a fan.  Other SIT students think it’s the most adorable animal, but I believe it only means mischief! However, male monkeys’ blue balls are a surprise for the eyes.

  • Nelson Mandela is venerated like a god

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    I’m with Mac Maharaj, who was tortured and imprisoned with Nelson Mandela for 12 years on Robben Island. After his release, Mac became a prominent voice in the new South Africa.

One of the reasons I decided to study in South Africa is the country’s history, particularly its struggle against apartheid and Nelson Mandela’s leadership in moving the nation forward. Mandela’s pictures are spray-painted on fences and his quotes are plastered onto community boards, while many people I meet still speak highly of him. I too think he’s the coolest person besides Jesus Christ, so I’ve loved seeing his exhibit at the Apartheid Museum and meeting many individuals who worked alongside him pre- and post-apartheid.

  • Safety is key

Before I travel to any place, I usually receive many safety briefings from over-concerned Americans. I often roll my eyes at this, but here in South Africa I’ve found that safety precautions are more necessary than not. My cellphone was stolen last week by a mini-bus conductor who took it and ran. I’ve also been pursued by the most persistent street beggars, who despite my insistence that I can’t help them have followed me for several minutes. I can’t even go to a park to hike by myself, and for that purpose have joined a hiking club.

  • The South Coast is where Blood Diamond was filmed!!!

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    Feeling very happy because I’m overlooking the backdrop for the rebel mining field filmed in Blood Diamond!

Before I discovered Bollywood flicks, Blood Diamond was hands-down my favorite movie. Come to find out, even though it takes place in Sierra Leone, it was almost entirely filmed in South Africa! Last weekend I was shown its main filming site along South Africa’s South Coast by an environmentalist named Benny. As Blood Diamond’s environmental assistant manager, Benny used a GPS-mapping system to ensure that all the trees and grasses that had been removed for the 5-month filming were placed in the precise position from which they came.

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South Africa has provided me with both surprises and delights these last 2 weeks, so all I can say is hhayibo (Zulu for wow!) and that I look forward to the next 2 weeks… including my birthday celebration in Mozambique, more Zulu language classes (my 4th language!), and hopefully a horse race in Durban! Since I have 13 more weeks in this SIT program, I’ve got plenty more posts to explain what exactly I’m studying here, my journalistic opportunities, host family, and how I’m keeping my body in beastly shape! Stay tuned to Fran’s Lands!

 

More fabulous South African photos are below:

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Chicken tikka masala with naan at the Copper Chimney, which is my new favorite Indian restaurant in Durban.
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Coffee and macadamia nut cake from Beaver Creek Coffee Estate in Port Edward
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Cinnamon sugar pancakes with soft-serve ice cream on the side. These are the best pancakes I’ve ever had. They cost 26 rand, which is less than $2!

 

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When walking along the South Coast, my environmentalist friend Benny showed me molten rock remnants from volcanic eruptions.
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At Warwick Market’s cow head market, this woman is preparing a cow head for the next lucky customer to devour.
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My fellow SIT students toured Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium, which was used for the semi-finals of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The seats are a green and blue mix so that on TV it will look like there are more fans than there actually are.

 

 

 

 

 

Thailand is the Place to Be

Whether Thailand is on your bucket list or not, there’s many reasons you should consider visiting it. Thanks to a gap between my Indonesian summer program and my fall semester in South Africa, I made a brief stop in Thailand to explore Bangkok, hit its beaches, and create this epic list of why Thailand is the place to be:

  • Thai food is to die for

I consider myself a first-rate foodie, so when I say Thai food is delicious, I 100% mean it! For noodle fans, there’s pad thai at nearly every street corner. If soup’s your thing, try tom yum goong (spicy shrimp soup) or tom kha kai (chicken in coconut milk soup). I happen to love the curries as well as mango sticky rice, a slightly sweet white rice topped with sliced mangoes.  Other perks of buying Thai food are its ridiculous cheapness (a decent meal can cost <$1) and tropical fruits that I can never find in the US (like rambutan, manggis, and durian).

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Amazing pad thai from Bangkok

Have you ever gone to a marketplace that is only accessible by boat? Go to Thailand’s floating markets, where food is sold by vendors on boats and boardwalks. I took a 30-minute boatride to reach a floating market, and was pleasantly surprised by its many marketstands and a local band playing traditional instruments.

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Shopping at one of Bangkok’s floating markets was one of my favorite experiences in Thailand. It doesn’t sound exciting, but it is!
  • The Grand Palace is the perfect backdrop for updating your Insta profile

Set in the heart of Bangkok, the official residence of past Thai royalty is a top-notch location for pictures due to its intricate architecture and designs. Unfortunately, since my scarf, t-shirt, and capris were not conservative enough to enter the palace, I had to make a spur-the-moment shopping trip at a side shop! See my new clothes below…

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Modeling my new outfit at the Grand Palace
  • Conversations with Thai locals challenge your communication skills

Even in touristy Bangkok, taxi drivers, waiters, and vendors understand close-to-nil English. Nevertheless, close-to-nil English is still some English, so your task is to communicate using the words people would know. Gestures and Google Translate come in handy too! To me, communicating with Thai people felt like a game, and I proudly beat my travel buddy Rohan at being understandable! Haha.

  • Thailand’s sandy beaches are a vacay paradise

Far from a tranquil beach getaway, Bangkok is a city that never sleeps. If you want to experience genuine vacation relaxation, then take a cheap plane from Bangkok to the southern regions. Rohan and I flew to Phuket, and from there we commuted to Phang Nga Bay (home of James Bond Island), Phi Phi Islands (touristy islands with turquoise water and sandy beaches), and Bangla Road (a road famous for its food and sprawling nightlife).

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Going to Phi Phi Island required a 4-hour ferry ride each way. Minus my hair blowing, I absolutely loved the feeling of the ocean wind!

If you fail miserably at cross-cultural communication, you can recover your confidence by watching a Muay Thai match. As Thailand’s official sport, Muay Thai competitors use their knees, elbows, shins, and hands to fight. Contestants come from all over the world, and as their 3-minute rounds near completion the audience claps and cheers ferociously.

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At Bangla Road, Rohan and I were caught in the spirit of a Muay Thai match.
  • Elephants!

  • Elephants are the national animal of Thailand, so its memorabilia is everywhere, from clothing to jewelry to décor. Elephants are also rich people’s pets. Just like Americans send their horses to top-notch trainers, so too do Thai people send their elephants to be entertained and improved. Desperate to find elephants, Rohan and I drove 30-kilometers on our scooter in the pouring rain to Phang Nga Elephant Park.
  • Thai massages make your body feel like it’s 16 again

I’m not typically a fan of massages because I’ve had too many that are more painful than relaxing. My Thai massage experience, however, was different. After stripping down and laying on my belly, my body was massaged with special oil that made my muscles feel better than they had the last 2 months! And my 30-minute massage only cost 200 baht (about $6)!

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Phi Phi Island was not only where I got my Thai massage but also the home of this pool! My life is now complete after swimming here 🙂
  • Scooters allow you to travel like a local

My greatest joys in life include tropical fruit, Indian food, mountain hikes, and—you guessed it—bikes! Fortunately in Thailand, my friend and I were able to rent a motorized scooter. Costing a mere 200 baht per day, the scooter allowed us to enjoy areas of the countryside that Grab (Southeast Asian version of Uber) would have overcharged to see.

For anyone who has never been to Asia or particularly Southeast Asia, it’s hard to fully capture the essence of night markets. Typically set on a long street, night markets have informal vendors who sell items ranging from fresh fruit to fried quail eggs, sausages, and snacks whose ingredients you can only guess. When Rohan and I perused a Bangkok night market, we sampled an assortment of sausages, pad thai, and green tea ice cream (green tea is a very popular Southeast Asian flavor).

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Night market snackie foods in the Phang Nga Bay area

 

Of course, there’s many more pictures and memories from my 6 days of Thailand, some of which are below:

Epic foods

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Tom yum goong is a sweet and sour shrimp and veggie-based soup, typically served with white rice.
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Tom kha kai is a soup consisting of chicken and veggies in coconut milk, again accompanied by rice.
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This is a fruit called rambutan, which I was excited to try in Thailand since I couldn’t find any in Indonesia. Fun fact: the fruit inside the rambutan’s hairy red shell has the color, shape, and size of an egg.

Beautiful seaside sights

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This is James Bond Island, best known from the 1974 James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun.
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Here’s a tranquil village alongside Phang Nga Bay that gets practically all its income from tourists on boat tours
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Phang Nga Bay is the perfect place for some yoga!
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Another epic photo of Phang Nga Bay. It has that Pirates of the Caribbean-type feel.
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Rohan and I took a long tail boat ride along Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River to visit Wat Arun (iconic Buddhist temple) and shop at our floating market.

Unforgettable experiences

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The Grand Palace is posh!!!
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Another view of Grand Palace
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Rohan and I did a boat trip around Phang Nga Bay, which included kayaking around water caverns!

 

 

 

 

Aku Rindu Indonesia

When we fall in love with a place but must leave it behind, we miss the most trifling things about it. After living in Indonesia 2 months, here’s my farewell to Indonesia and why I believe it may be the best country I’ve visited so far.

* Aku Rindu Indonesia= I long for/miss Indonesia

I’m waiting to board my Bangkok-bound flight for a one week mini-vacation before my South Africa study abroad, and at this moment I’m feeling sentimental. Yuck! Here I am, almost teary eyed, reflecting on how unconditionally loving my Indonesian friends have been, how my host ibus (Indonesian for “mothers”) always bantered “tambah” (“Have some more!”) during our meals, and how my language teachers’ never lost their patience when my brain could not keep up with their steady teaching rhythm. Since I’m a fan of lists, I’ve condensed my thoughts to a “Top 10 Things I Will (or Will Not) Miss About Indonesia”:

  1. Buy (almost) anything I want

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    I took Ibu Katarina (right) and Ibu Rina (left) out to a special restaurant where we took family photos! As you can see, we are wearing batik, which is Indonesian traditional clothing.

If you’re a college student like me, budgeting life is a daily routine. However, after arriving in Indonesia, my measly wallet worked wonders! Grab (Indonesian Uber) rides are anywhere from cents to a few dollars, and you can certainly find quality warung (Indonesian outdoor restaurants) food for less than that. I also took my 2 ibus and a friend to a private candlelit hut at a riverside restaurant where we feasted for a mere $25.

  1. Knee pillows

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    On the middle of each of these beds is a guling, a long and narrow pillow.

I can’t sleep without a knee pillow! Indonesians understand that too because they place special cylindrical pillows on the middle of their beds where their knees go! This pillow, called guling, originated from when the Dutch colonized Indonesia. Its purpose was to act as a barrier for men and women who slept on the same bed but had not yet married!

  1. “Hati-hati”

From studying in an intensive Indonesian language program, I’ve learned lots of words and phrases that can’t be translated literally. Like Hati-hati. While it simply means “be careful,” I’ve never met English speakers—besides overprotective parents—who use it the way Indonesians do. Whenever I go to class, home, or anywhere, my friends and host family say “hati-hati,” often while holding my hand affectionately. It’s yet another way Indonesians show they care.

  1. Squat toilets

Although I’ve sampled squat toilets in India, I was never a regular user until Indonesia.  What can I say, it’s been a culturally immersive experience! First, realizing that used toilet paper belongs in the waste basket. Second, learning from trial and error to perform hind end cleaning toilet-paper-free. And third, revising bucketing strategies for flushing if the bodily waste is particularly cumbersome.

  1. Being special

While it’s sometimes flattering to receive over-the-top treatment and selfie requests, it can also be annoying! A couple weeks ago, a student at my Indonesian university approached me in hopes of making me his foreigner girlfriend, which I confidently refused! However, the footage of our conversation was captured by another student and is featured on a YouTube Channel called Jomblo (single person searching for a partner) TV. On a similar note, I’m also given a special name whenever I go out walking: “Hey, mister! Mister!” Many Indonesians don’t understand that “mister” is the English title for males, not all white people!

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Evidence that my tutor Mbak Mei is an incredibly thoughtful human being: she made a calendar to record everything she did with me the last 60 days!
  1. No one to have a crush on

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    Besides my tutors, Mas Gun has been my BFFFF in Indonesia. Not only have I taught him English, but he’s also taught me so much about music from his genius cello playing.

Since one of my required criteria for men is that he is at least my height, I’ve got slim pickings in Indonesia. This is the only country where I somewhat wish I was short!

  1. Hijabs that are not stereotyped

Because I haven’t spent much time in a Muslim majority country before, I began my Indonesian experience with many stereotypes about what Muslims are like.  From my language program’s hijab-clad leader dancing to Anaconda to the people I met whose families crossed religious boundaries, I grew to respect not only Islam but also how other religions worked together despite tremendous differences.

  1. Patriotism

I’m not Indonesian but I’m patriotic for Indonesia! Why? Because Indonesians actually care about their country! Their Independence Day’s treated almost like an American Christmas, but instead of songs being played from late November to the end of December, they’re only played the week of August 17. Flags are hung up everywhere, everyone gets the day off work, and a number of special ceremonies commence. No jokes about the president, no side conversations that begin with “Big bad China…”

  1. Unparalleled beauty

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    Mount Bromo is the most popular destination in the Malang area and probably one of the only local places where tourists can get away with being understood in English.

Indonesia’s jaw-dropping gorgeous! Just last week I went horse riding and climbing up Mount Bromo, an active volcano about 2 hours from Malang. As I gazed at the mountain skyline and turned my attention downward to the volcano’s crater, I was awestruck by the raw beauty of the natural surroundings. To think I only got a little sampling of Indonesia from one of its 18,000 islands!

  1. Genetically distinct cats

During my research presentation this week, I shared my findings from my Indonesian and American student interviews as well as my survey of Malang’s cats’ tails. Here’s a few interesting tidbits:

  • Indonesian cats are usually short-tailed-in fact, 70% of cats from my cat survey are short-tailed
  • Americans are more willing to adopt a short-tailed cat than Indonesians- 80% of Americans would be okay with owning one, compared to only 30% of Indonesians
    • Reasons for not owning a short-tailed cat- not as playful; long-tailed cat is ideal
    • Reasons to own a short-tailed cat- cats’ tail does not matter (1 respondent also said the cat would be cleaner after defecating)
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My final presentation for my language immersion program involved a 12-minute PowerPoint about my research. Since I was going to talk about short-tailed cats, I decided to become a cat for the presentation! Here I am with Mbak Mei (left) and Mbak Vita (center) after celebrating being finished!

As I conclude the Indonesian section of Fran’s Lands, I write as one who is passionately in love. I took a leap of faith choosing to study the Indonesian language, yet I have not only progressed in the the language but also in the way I see myself as a friend, family member, and individual. Though I’m headed to Thailand next, my rich Indonesian adventures compel me to return and live out my life goal to make a difference in a new, meaningful way.

 

 

Here’s a sampling of my adventures in Indonesia these last 3 weeks…

For the beauty of Bromo…

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Due to the nature of roads, Mount Bromo excursions are reserved for Jeeps only.
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Here I am ascending Bromo’s peak on my noble steed.
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Brooooomooooo

For the love of kids…

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At the Catholic high school where Ibu Rina works, I was interviewed by the journalism class for the school’s magazine.
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To thank me for visiting the school’s journalism class, one of the students drew a portrait of me. Thank you, Alex!
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Can you see me? I’m wearing the lavender hijab! I’m with a group of students at a pesantren, which is a private school for Muslims.
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I won the election to become the menteri pendidikan (minister of education) in my Indonesian class’ mock election! I had to make a poster, give a speech, and do Q and A.

For the love of friendship…

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I put my Indonesian skills to use by speaking with Indonesia’s regional public radio station about my experience learning Bahasa Indonesia. Definitely a program highlight!
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Bonding with Mbak Mei (left) and Mbak Vita (center) by picking oranges.
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Here I am with my host mom Ibu Rina on Indonesia’s Independence Day. At the high school where she works, I had to give a speech to the 1,200 students!
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This is not a great picture, but it’s of me (pictured in black and gold traditional clothing at center) and my classmates playing the gamelan for my Indonesian program’s closing ceremony.
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This t-shirt is a special parting gift I received from Pak Gatot, Ibu Rina’s BFF, who’s taken me out to dinner a few times. The red and white flag is for Indonesia.

When Learning Has No Limit

Who doesn’t wish they were 5-years-old again when everything came so easily?! By living in Indonesia, I’m reminded everyday that learning is a never-ending process.

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Practicing Muay Thai is literally one of my highlights in life right now. I lack the coordination, but I desperately want to improve.

“Soak everything up like a sponge, sweetie! Once you’re my age, learning won’t be so easy anymore.”

Every old person teaches a version of “How to Prevent Young People from Messing Up in Life,” and I’m still considered a student of the course. Unbeknownst to the elderly generation, however, I’m afraid my sponge days are long past. My proof? Learning a new language is like understanding the opposite sex. It can be mastered, but only with lots of patience and persistence.

Thankfully, living in Indonesia means that I can improve my language and cultural skills not only in the classroom but everywhere in between. Let’s take a look at my favorite learning sites:

  • University

University life sounds boring but it’s not. From 8 AM to 1 PM Monday through Friday, I attend Malang State University to speak Bahasa Indonesia. If I speak English subconsciously (“like” happens to be among Francine’s greatest hits), my punishment comes in the form of making extra sentences.

Compared to many languages, Indonesian is not immensely difficult, probably because the alphabet is the same as English and verbs rarely need conjugation. However, pronunciation is a whole different game. I have to roll my “r”s and remember not to aspirate (or voice) “t” “p,” or “k.”

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Here are my classmates from my Indonesian class. Pictured from the right is me, Mbak Zayn, Mbak Camille, and Mas Austin.

Classroom culture here is relatively laid back, with my teachers connecting well with us due to their close ages, 3 ten-minute breaks occurring before lunch, and field trips and interviews happening every couple days. As for our learning format, we dig into grammar and culture while copying new vocabulary from the whiteboard. Topping off our language experience is good ol’ Susan (the catering company), who nourishes us with snacks and lunch. Due to the delicious and diverse nature of her treats, she’s made many students fear returning to the states a few sizes larger.

So far, my Indonesian studies are 5 out of 8 weeks complete, with each week getting harder. Besides quizzes every Friday and a midterm exam, I’ve got a final project. For the project, I’ll be focusing on cats’ tails by interviewing 20 Indonesians and 20 Americans and taking pictures of 50 cats to determine their tail size and type. More on that in future blogs!

  • Places to Eat

Every culture has something to teach from its food, and since I’m a particularly adventurous eater, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to reflect on Indonesian cuisine. My conclusion? I’m floored that there’s not more Indonesian restaurants in the US. The dishes here are rave-worthy, but then again, perhaps Americans can’t handle the zest!

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This is bebek, or duck meat, served with rice and light vegetables, which I ordered on the island Madura.

I’m a little sick of having rice and kerupuk (Indonesian cracker) every meal, but other than that I like the spices, variations of nasi goreng (fried rice), and the use of salak (snake fruit) and quail eggs. I also enjoy checking out the fast food scene, with the mission of determining the place that serves the best fried chicken. KFC outdoes McDonald’s, but I have yet to try Miami Fried Chicken (MFC), Texas Fried Chicken (TFC), and California Fried Chicken (CFC). It cracks me up that these Indonesian fast food chains have American names but don’t even exist in the US!

  • Sites and Attractions

Food says a lot about a country’s culture, but exploring new areas can provide a wealth of information as well. This past weekend my friends and I traveled to Surabaya, the second largest city in Indonesia. One of our first stops was the House of Sampuerna cigarette factory, where we learned that while men typically smoke the cigarettes, the women are the ones making them! Hmm…

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Mbak Aja (left), me, and Mbak Vita went to the auditions for The Voice: Indonesia in Surabaya! Mbak Aja was so close to auditioning, but didn’t want to wait in line a lifetime.

Later on, my friends and I visited the Chinese section of Surabaya, where we devoted a good 20 minutes to gawk at an ornate mosque reminiscent of a Confucian temple. Lucky us, the president of that mosque’s board of directors invited us for dinner! That evening we met him for Chinese hotpot, which included the most scrumptious salmon, veggies, and seafood ever prepared in a dish!

Our adventure was topped off by a spontaneous trip to Madura, a still developing island connected to Surabaya by a 5-kilometer-long bridge. Since minimal public transportation goes there, we booked a Grab (Indonesian version of Uber) from Surabaya. Between observing the new buildings erected beside farm fields, stopping at a duck restaurant, and satisfying my new durian obsession, it almost felt like we were in another country.  Sidenote: while the Grab to Madura was expensive for Indonesian standards, our 3-hour trip only cost $15!

***

So there you have it! Although I still envy children’s ability to soak up information, I have the world at my doorstep. And as long as you and I apply ourselves by exploring, asking questions, and not fearing mistakes, who knows what age cap our learning must have!

Some pictures from the last 2 weeks:

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This is manggis, a traditional Indonesian fruit originally from Malaysia.
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In Surabaya, my friends and I tried some local seafood. Guess what this is? Stingray!
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One of my guilty pleasures in life—besides Indian food—is ice cream, especially brownie sundaes. In Indonesia, however, the name is “brownie boat.” Sempurna!
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Here I am with my tutors, Mbak Vita (right) and Mbak Mei (center). Mbak Mei had just submitted her thesis for the Bahasa Indonesia major, so this was a very special day for her.
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Here I am with my tutors after having tried even more fried chicken at Ayam Nelongso, a local fast food restaurant.
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This weekend, my classmates and I went to Blitar to visit the grave of Pak Soekorno, Indonesia’s first president. While there, Mbak Camille (to my right) and I interviewed a group of school kids for our v-log (video blog)!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waduh! Why Mistakes Matter

When something goes wrong, a common Indonesian response is “Waduh!” The word also means “Wow!” and may be the best way to describe my Indonesian experience.

Most people dwell too much on mistakes, myself included. These last 2 weeks in Indonesia, I questioned my academic choices, mourned someone’s death, and found countless cats whose tails appeared to have been ran over. But were these events mistakes? Maybe, maybe not. Let’s briefly swipe through my top “mistakes” in Indonesia so far:

  • Not Pushing Myself Enough

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In class, we learned all the parts of the body, and 10 minutes later had to remember them! I taped all the body parts to their location on the body of my tutor, Mbak Mei!

This summer as part of the US Critical Language Scholarship (CLS), I’m doing an 8-week Bahasa Indonesia language immersion program at Malang State University in Indonesia. Although I was thrilled to continue my Indonesian learning in Malang, my first in-country dilemma was realizing the class I was placed into was too easy. I seemed like a genius!

However, I liked my class. There were 4 students and 4 teachers (the perfect ratio!), and although the concepts initially were review for me, the coursework began moving fast. I decided to stay, which was the best decision! Between hosting a Rachel Ray-esque cooking show to debating Indonesia’s death penalties for narcotics possession to cruising around town in an angkot (local transportation), my classes are never boring.

  • Celebrating…Only to Mourn

 Besides my Indonesian class woes, I faced another predicament: learning how to celebrate and weep Indonesian-style. For starters, 4th of July in Malang was grander than any celebration I recall in America. My favorite moments of our special event at Malang State was singing the Indonesian national anthem with my American classmates, proudly standing as the Indonesian students performed the American national anthem, and pathetically attempting the “Wobble” and “Footloose” dances. Toward the end of the night, my fellow Americans and the Indonesian students gathered onstage to dance to Katy Perry’s “Firework” as balloons fell upon us from above and fireworks illuminated the sky.

Two days later, one of the Indonesian leaders of CLS unexpectedly died. I had just had a pleasant conversation with him on the 4th of July! After class, all CLS students, teachers, and tutors took angkots to his home to console his family and listen to what I believe was a Muslim prayer recited in Arabic. Indeed, there is a time to laugh and a time to mourn, but I don’t ever remember them happening back-to-back.

  • Feeling Sorry for Myself and Cats’ Tails

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Here I am congratulating an incoming freshman at the high school where Ibu Rina works. He’s doing the respectful forehead touch to my hand.

The next “mistake” of my Indonesian experience was not so serious as death but involved being in the wrong place at the wrong time. If you know me well, you recognize that hand sanitizer is my longtime BFF. It then shouldn’t surprise you that my germ-hating feelings returned when I shook hands with 400 incoming freshmen at the Catholic high school where my host mom works.

During my tour of the school, we followed loud noises until we reached the auditorium. There an energetic group of freshman was playing their orientation games. Shortly after I found myself alongside the gurus (teachers) and priests shaking the students’ hands! I didn’t belong there, but there I was! My least favorite part was not shaking hands; it was the 1 in 10 students who, as a sign of deep respect, shook my hand while placing their forehead on it. Germs mixed with head sweat! Yikes! After mentally scheduling my journey to the cuci tangan (sink or literally “hand cleaner”), I made a point to enjoy congratulating the deserving students. How fun!

 Besides pitying my hands, I’ve also felt sorry for cats these last couple weeks. Their tails are dinky! So dinky, in fact, that I was convinced a motorcycle or car ran over their tails. However, after finding 20-30 cats with tails of comparable lengths, I reconsidered. It’s genetic!

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Here’s one of my first subjects for “The Cat Tail Project.” See how short his tail is!

Thus started my hobby project: “Proyek Kucing Ekor” (“The Cat Tail Project”). I now take photos of every cat with a short tail (about 2/3 of cats). It’s an oddity for Indonesians to see anyone actively searching and meowing for felines, but I no longer mind.

***

While I just complained about recent “mistakes” or unfortunate events in my life, I also revealed the positives that happened because of them. The circumstances provided me experience, curiosity, and wisdom, and although I would certainly not choose someone’s death, everything served as an opportunity to learn through a culture unlike my own. And I’ve also had several no-strings-attached positives! I’ve made health a top priority by taking Muay Thai (Thai boxing) classes 2 hours a day 3 times a week and beginning training for a South Africa half marathon. I’ve also challenged my spice tolerance to its limits by eating Mie Setan (literally “Satan’s Noodles”) with the trusty aid of 5 bottles of water! On top of that, I’ve begun learning the gamelan (Indonesian percussion instrument) and teaching English to my new friend, Mas Gun. Most importantly, I’m improving my language skills while growing close to my Indonesian friends and family.

Life in Indonesia will be a constant struggle between mistakes and triumphs, but whatever happens, I’m facing it head on. Semangat!

 

Pictured below are some pictures to prove how fun (and delicious!) Indonesia is:

First is the food…

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This is sate kelinci, which is grilled rabbit! Yum!
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Nasi goreng, or fried rice, is one of the most-well known dishes in Indonesia and consists of rice fried with vegetables, spices, and egg. This dish was less than 1 USD!
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Bakso, or meatballs, is one of the famous foods in Indonesia and in Malang specifically.

Now for everything else…

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Here I am with Ibu Rina, my host mom. She is one of the most unconditionally loving people I know.
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Me in my happy place, playing the gamelan. Gamelan is always played in an ensemble, so this is just one instrument of many drums and mallet instruments.
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Here I am at Mie Setan pretending to be happy. I just ate the spiciest noodles of my life and had been crying uncontrollably. Pictured to the right are the 5 water bottles I drank.
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After Mie Setan, my tutors and I soothed our taste buds by eating gelato. My flavor was durian! Pictured from the left are Mbak Vita, me, and Mbak Mei.
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Though most people in Indonesia are Muslim, there are some Hindus, and their temples are beautiful.
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My class went to a museum to look at wayung kulit, which are puppets used for shadow plays.
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Last weekend, my class took a field trip around the city of Malang in one of these buses! Just like in England!
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Here’s my beautiful church! And yes, I’m still a part of the choir.