Religiously Secular

Posted in earthquake, religion with tags , on October 2, 2009 by Colin

Before I begin, a quick word about the earthquakes.  I have nothing to really say.  I did not experience these earthquakes.  A few weeks ago I felt a slight swaying from one, but that’s my life’s total experience with earthquakes.  To comment further would be akin to describing the sensation of walking on the moon.  While it is a terrible tragedy, as are all natural disasters, I’m sorry I can’t be of more help.  Keep in mind that Indonesia is only 100 km narrower than Canada. It’s unlikely that someone in Toronto would feel a tremor from Vancouver. It is equally unlikely to feel most tremors that strike Indonesia.

Indonesia, like most democracies, has a secular government.  It is not a country that is run by Islam, which seems to be the concern of most westerners (not that I would have any idea of what an “Islamic State” constitutes).  Despite the government being secular, religion has a rather funny way of playing out here.  I’ll break down some of the more obvious and curious aspects of this.

Freedom of Religion

Every person is required by law to belong to a religion.  In Canada we are all quite used to the fact that our individual religion is completely private and a choice that each one of us is free to free to make.  That’s not exactly the case here.  An Indonesian will actually have their chosen religion printed directly onto their identification card.  For someone such as myself, I was required to declare it on my immigration papers.  While one is free to choose their religion here, that, of course, depends on what religion they wish to choose.  There are only five recognized religions:  Islam, Christianity, Catholicism (apparently not a Christian religion), Buddhism and Hinduism.  For the followers of Judaism or any other religions, you still have to select one of the five.  This choice will be with you for the rest of your time in Indonesia.  There are practical ramifications to the choice you make.  The most obvious that I have seen is when it comes to marriage.  If a man and a woman wish to marry (sorry, no same-sex marriages here), they must belong to the same religion before that can happen.  If they are not of the same faith, one must convert to the other’s religion.

Never Talk about Religion

We’ve all heard the phrase, “never talk about religion or politics” before. While it’s easy enough not to talk about the politics of a country you’ve only recently arrived in, it’s not so easy when it comes to religion.  Being asked what your religion is is a commonplace occurence.  In fact, it is often one of the first few questions that any person will ask you.  Don’t be offended if this happens to you.  There are different ways to address people (especially within Islam) and they are often trying to find out how they should address you.  Oddly, with the population of the country being dominantly Muslim, there is no noticeable religious intolerance.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  There is no real feeling that someone should belong to one religion or another.

Celebrating our Differences

The greatest part about the acceptance of the various religions is that there are government mandated public holidays to celebrate the major events in each religion.  Just recently, the muslims celebrated the conclusion to their annual season of Ramadhan.  To celebrate it’s conclusion and to accomodate the religious requirements for the followers, the country had a ten-day holiday ot allow them to travel to see their family, which often lives quite far away.  Ramadhan itself was a bit of an interesting shock.  Since most people are Muslim and during Ramadhan they are required to fast from sun-up to sun-down, there are few open restaurants during the day-time.  Once the sun is down, the party begins.  The Buka Puasa (which ironically means “open fasting”) finds the muslims and oftentimes non-muslims sitting down to eat large meals together.  It’s a great communal feeling.  I even hosted one myself (despite not fasting at all).

The Hard Life

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on August 14, 2009 by Colin

I would like to start with for simple words – I love it here! To be honest, the past month and a half has not exactly been an easy time for me.

Only twelve hours after finishing my last day of work in Ulaanbaatar, I was on a plane bound for Beijing. Leaving at 3 am for a two and a half hour flights isn’t completely terrible, but the eight hour layover in the airport is normally unbearable. Thankfully, there were several others on the same flight hanging out in the airport with me. The most bizarre moment of the layover happened in the restaurant when it came time to pay up so we could find our departure gate. Somehow – and still no one can suggest a reasonable explanation for this – the restaurant was able to attach our names to the bills, correctly. None of us ever told them our names! We then made our way to the one thing that makes an eight-hour layover seem like a cakewalk, the thirteen hour flight to Chicago. Unfortunately, United Airlines eliminated the free drinks on transpacific flights the previous summer. Just between you and me, if you tell the flight attendant you only have $100 bills, you get to drink for free the whole trip. We landed in Chicago about thirty minutes before we left Beijing (factoring in the time differences). Of course, Chicago is a nightmare of an airport, but I still managed to successfully say goodbye to my friends who were heading to Toronto and boarded my flight to Detroit. On this flight, I even managed to get to sit beside a guy who was exactly the same as every character Jeff Goldblum has ever played in a movie. If you thought the 54 hours between the last time I had slept and arriving in Detroit was bad enough, I had to wait another four hours for my luggage to arrive.

The next ten days weren’t exactly the relaxing vacation I would have liked either. Over that time I had to attend a doctor’s appointment, deliver some penpal letters from my students to those at St. Benedict School, set up a new bank account, go see my nephew for the first time in Kitchener (he didn’t really seem to appreciate the new person in his life), go to Toronto – three times, go to Leamington, play in two different ball games, get a tattoo (side note: if getting a tattoo done in Sarnia, you MUST go to Kari’s tattoos) and still find time for my family and friends. Mission accomplished. Oh yeah, I still had to fly all the way back to the other side of the world, this time to Jakarta.

Upon arriving, I was quickly introduced to how hard my life will be here. I was met at the arrival gate by a man whose entire job is to get me past immigration and customs without having to say a word to anyone. I have a full time maid (I managed to get one who is not a live-in maid). I have become convinced that I don’t give her nearly enough work. Every day I come home to find a new surprise. This isn’t some wonderful surprise; just that she busies herself by movie small things in my house on a daily basis. She also cooks some of the best meals I have had in a long time. While I’m here, the school has a person whose job is entirely to ensure the happiness of the expatriate staff – and she’s good at her job. Did I mention that the school set me up in a 2 bedroom, 2 full bathroom house… to myself?

My first big purchase was my motorcycle. Not a big bike, just a fully automatic 115cc Yamaha Nouvo Z. Including the new shocks, new tires and other minor improvements I’ve made (I’m preparing for some long-distance bike rides) it has cost me less than a third of a month’s salary. Oh, I almost forgot, I can fill the tank for under $2 and that will get me 120 km. My second big purchase was my golf gear. I picked up the clubs, shoes, balls, glove and tees for a whopping $600 – brand new.

The one thing that will take some getting used to is the “greasing the wheels” process of this country. For example, I just registered my bike under my own name (it’s perfectly legal to own a bike registered to someone else here). It cost roughly $20 for the registration, but an extra $30 for the “administrative fee”. I will be getting my Indonesian driver’s license this weekend. This necessary document will cost $10 for the license itself, plus another $10 for each person in the process – so $60 in total.

As this place is so full of people, corruption and adventure, I have no doubt I will be in for some of the most interesting experiences of my life. I hope you enjoy them as much as I’m sure I will.

It’s Official

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on March 22, 2009 by Colin

While it’s been official for a little while now, I am indeed going to Indonesia.  I will be working at a large school on the outskirts of Jakarta, called Sekolah Global Jaya.

I am excited beyond words.  After leaving Canada for Mongolia two years ago, I have the opportunity to continue to involve myself in the world and to truly experience the the other side of life.  An added bonus to this job is that I will be reunited with my good friends Dan and Tina Carr, whom I worked with during my first year in Mongolia.

I will be there for a minimum of two years, but could find myself living there for a much longer period of time.  Visitors will always be welcome.  Be sure to bring your international driver’s liscence as I intend to build a fleet of mopeds.