Friday, October 15, 2010

Retro-tactile and stuff

Since we're talking about cultural exchange, a couple notes from this week.

1. One of the English teachers asked after school the other day if I'd accompany him to the bank. He actually said, Will you accompany me? I needed to do some shopping in town and was at least curious to see his bank--a special institution owned and operated by the Magelang government as a kind of credit union for civil servants--and so off we went. I didn't ask why he needed to visit the bank, and figured it was probably to drop off a check or something. When we got there, my buddy disappeared into a back office and I was left to contemplate the three-story polished marble lobby. Handsome but very gray. The place, like many places here, felt transported from the 1960s or 1970s, maybe because you can still smoke in public everywhere and because Indonesians still use an unbelievable number of hand-written receipts, usually in triplicate and always stapled to something. It's very retro-tactile, the receipt thing, and I like it. I grabbed a newspaper from the old-fashioned newspaper reading rack in the corner--more to like!--and took seat in the lobby. Twenty minutes later, I began to wonder what happened to my friend. Thirty minutes later, I sent him a text message saying I was heading to the store without him. "Ok," he texted back. About 45 minutes later he called to ask where I was. I'm waiting for you at the bank, he said, sounding a little peeved. I'll be right there. So I walked back and he met me in the doorway and said I should take a seat. He was almost done. Almost done? Almost done, he said with a smile. Maybe 15 minutes later he emerged from the back office with a black plastic grocery bag that was, of course, stapled shut. I think he'd torn the receipt off. On the ride back, my friend asked if I'd store something in my backpack for him. Sure. He reached below his seat and grabbed the grocery bag. Take this. I got a loan. I took the bag and stuffed it in my backpack. You got a loan and the bank paid you in cash? Yeah. I needed the money right away. How much is in here? Fifty million rupiah. That's about $5,000, or a year's pay for a teacher with my friend's experience. So we drove around town with a pile of cash and even stopped for lunch. I set the backpack down next to my chair as we ate and my friend gave me a very concerned look. Don't forget the bag. Of course not. I didn't ask but he eventually told me he was using the money for an investment with a friend. I need to make some money. I need to buy a house. I've been living with my mother-in-law for 16 years. An investment? I don't want to say.

2. My Internet went out yesterday for the second time in about a week, and my counterpart teacher got involved in trying to fix it. There's a little Internet room for the students near my house and the 20-something guy who runs it was trying to get me back online by monkeying with my computer settings, which never seems like a good idea. He was having no luck and trying to explain this to me but I wasn't getting it. I called my counterpart to translate and he popped in about one minute later. We all convened around the desk in my small little bedroom and the two of them got to talking about the machine. I could follow the conversation for a couple minutes--router not working, need to change router, maybe the principal should get involved?--but lost them at about the five minute mark. They kept talking, literally non-stop, for about 35 minutes. My counterpart did no actual translating, and I finally excused myself and ate an apple. Eventually the tech guy left and my counterpart joined me in the kitchen. He sat down, silently. So what's up? Uh, he's trying to fix it. And? We can say he is trying to fix it. You guys just talked for a half-hour. What did you say? Oh, that he might not fix it until Monday.

3. We had some fun at English Club today. About 40 students crammed into an over-warm classroom, a good mix of boys and girls from the 11th and 12th grades. Couple fun games and then we did some singing: Country Roads, which is popular among the teachers, and Lennon's Imagine. Kids really got into the chorus of Country Roads, just belting it out, and on our third time through we were pulling some Keillor-like communal singalong oomph. Songs every week, I think.

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