Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I'm alive!!!

Hello All!!!
Merry Christmas,Hannukah, Kwanza, Solstice, and New Year.
I've just returned home from nearly 3 weeks of traveling in Indo, Thailand, and Cambodia, and have many things to share. Over the next few days expect a huge update bursting with photos and stories. First I need to get my internet in my house turned back on.
Love you all.


Monday, December 7, 2009


I'm having an awesomely productive day.
Finished by application for Berkeley and then immediately wrote and recorded a new song.
Be warned, its a very silly song- you might even laugh.
Javanese Coffee is working miracles for me.

Download my new song ->HERE<-

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Things On Motorbikes #1

After a good inspirational talk with ol' Dad today, I've decided to start a sub-blog within Sema Sema Semarang called, "Things on Motorbikes". As one might expect, it will be devoted to things I see that are attached to, dangling from, riding on, or being held by someone that is riding on a motorbike.

Example #1 comes from Bandung:

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Turkey / Train

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday I had me a travelin’ adventure. Wednesday was a trippy trippy day. I had no class until 12 o’clock, so I opted to come to school late and work on some lesson plans at home. Upon arriving at school around 11:30 or so, I find that there is a local TV news team there awaiting my arrival. No warning, no “Hey Thom, so we called Channel One, and guess what? They want to make you the most famous Buleh in Semarang!”
“So Thoms, you must tell them about the condition of the students.”
“What do you mean the condition? Like Mint condition….?
“You must tell them about the intelligence of the students…the quality of the school…how much you love Semarang.”
I had to put on my acting hat and tell all of central Java how great my school was. After being interviewed in front of the school sign, the camera guy shot a lot of creepy candid photos of me getting markers out of desk, talking to my counterpart, and digging through my backpack for my explosives, I mean notebook.

This week in class I was teaching different parts of the body with my students, and started my off by doing head, shoulders, knees, and toes. The cameraman took this as an opportunity to get artistic/creepy with his shots, getting low to the floor, close up, and holding the camera at an angle, while I bent forward singing, struggling to touch my toes, all while encouraging my students to join me in looking like an ass on television. After we finished the song, the cameraman left. No actual teaching was going to be filmed, no drawing, no repeat after me, no board-races, just me looking stupid and overly enthusiastic.

Later that night, I played Futsol with the buleh buleh, punched home a few goals, and headed home. At this point I would typically be going to sleep, but on this night there would be no rest. At 1:30 my taxi showed up to take me the train station for my 3:20 train- He was suppose to come at 2:00, but I suppose he wanted to get some z’s as well. Anyway, I get to the station around 2:00, and have an hour and change to kill.

The station was similar to any other sketchy American depot- dimly light, Dunkin Donut-ified, and filled with sketchy types selling food/ drink and sleeping on Cardboard. All but one bench in the entire depot was filled with waiting/sleeping people clutching their bags like babies. Next to me sat a very old women who sat upon her cardboard covered bench as though it were her throne and she was the queen of the train station. She propped her bony misshapen feet up high on the end of the bench, to display the callous’ on the bottom of her feet, sorta like a chopped down elder Oak showing its rings. She talked to me in toothless, mush mouth, Indonesian/ Javanese. She grabbed my arm and squeezed my bicep, asked me if I was married, where I came from. I told her everything I could manage, she stroked a spotted white cat with a knobbed tail and distorted her facial expressions as she tried to make out the stumbling sentences of this clumsy foreigner. She mimed to me to put everything from my pockets into my backpack and to go to sleep. I told her I wasn’t sleepy. After a few minutes she, herself nodded off, pulling her knees to her stomach, lofting a batik cloth over slight frame, and resting her head upon her weary hands. She slept like a semi-active volcano, unleashing periodic coughs of smoker’s lung or tuberculosis.

3:20 AM came and went, as did a plethora of other trains. Trains for Jakarta, Trains full of packages, trains packed with standing people, broken windows and flickering florescent lights. 4:00 A.M., “belum” (not yet, soon) a tea vendor tells me. 4:38, “belum” says the train worker, 5:00 “Belum”. Finally 5:20 AM- my eyes barely able to stay open- my mind barely able to believe that my train bound for Surabaya was finally here. I hopped across two sets of tracks, and into my train car, where a man was occupying my seat. He left without words or shame-just hustling, can’t blame a guy. I watched the sun rise above power lines, fishponds, and smoke stacks. I leaned back in my chair, turned on some tunes, and dreamed about pumpkin pie.

I woke up a couple hours later to find my train among a lot of nothing- rice paddies on flat green plains in every direction. Small women with big pointy straw hats alongside rowdy 11-year-old boys who scream, wave, and throw rocks at the trains as they pass. I suddenly understood where the crack in my window came from.

Sometimes when you listen to music while traveling or doing something active, on occasion without intent, things align perfectly, almost serendipitously. As Casmir Pulaski Day faded away in my headphones, so did the country. The moment my body passed the threshold of Surabaya’s first building, Sufjan’s “Chicago” jangled ecstatic in my ears. I was suddenly rushing through a tunnel of buildings and motorbikes, and I felt as though the city was built to the song, that a groove was pressed into the brick and mortar, and the train was a needle unleashing a long awaited welcome. I felt like a child with their nose against the window, taking the enormity of things flying by. It’s been a long time.

From the train station I caught a taxi to Cassie’s palatial manor, where I caught up with a crew of ETA’s that I hadn’t seen since September. We traded anecdotes, ate Thai food at the mall, and went to a cool Buddhist temple by the ocean, before heading off for the feast.

Around 5:30ish we got to the consulate general’s house for Thanksgiving. I felt I had died and gone to heaven- glasses of wine, beer, and mango juice for the taking. 5 Turkeys! 5 f’ing Turkey’s cooked and cut exquisitely onto silver platters alongside mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, sweet potatoes, salad (didn’t touch it), some tofu thing, ham, cranberry sauce, bread, pumpkin pie and cheese cake. I ate four plates of food. I haven’t been that full since thanksgiving the year before. I was so thankful. So thankful for my incredible family and friends, for the opportunities available to me in life, for laughter, for love, for creativity, and for food, glorious bountiful plates of food paid for by the US Government and its wonderful tax-payers.

I immediately passed out after the meal and woke up early the next morning. I ventured to the train station to see if I could get lucky and catch early train. Unfortunately, the train station I went to had no trains going to Semarang that day, but a “nice” old taxi driver that spoke English directed me to a place where I could buy a ticket for a train out of another station. I bought a ticket and the old guy a cup of coffee. We spoke English for a while- He told me about his life as a hustler in Surabaya, directing traffic, selling papers, and offering private taxi tours. I appreciated his hustling and new that I was no more than another buleh, another job, a little money to him. But listening to his story, his struggle with identity as a man of Chinese origin in Indonesia, his thoughts on the state of country were consuming. Not to mention the unusually large tufts of hair coming out of his dangly, long-lobed ears. I avoided as politely as possible his offers of service and parted with what I thought was good information about the location of the other train station.

After heading back to Cassie’s, seeing a goat get its head chopped off for Idul Adha (essentially Indonesian Thanksgiving with a twist), I headed off and waited at Royale Mall (near the train station) for a couple of hours. After picking up some snacks and getting a really bad massage via shitty massage chair, I headed to the train station with half-an hour to wait for my train.

When I arrived, the ticket man at the gate, informed me that this was not the correct station, and that the one I was suppose to be going to was 17 kilometers away. Fuck Fuck Fuck. The guy rushed me to a cab with no meter, and a nice mulleted guy drove me calmly into traffic jam after traffic jam. I was sure I wasn’t going to make it, almost positive. I would ask how far away the station was and the taxi driver would repeatedly say, “um, maybe 10 km”. I wanted to die. Anything I liked about Surabaya was whisked away with thoughts of its terrible traffic, its misinforming hustlers, and its shitty, shitty, massage chairs.

As quickly as things went bad, things went well again. After a short cut down a few empty streets, the mulleted man delivered me magically at the door of the station. Had the train left yet, “Belum” says the parking attendant. I felt electric. I tossed the driver a 50k and ran through the station ecstatic/alive/still slightly terrified. I hopped across the platforms, over the tracks, onto my car and into my seat with the broken foot stand. I didn’t give a shit, I was going home. I breathed a 5 hour sigh of relief.

Perhaps I was thankful for more than I thought- more than just food, family, and what not. I was thankful for the kindness of strangers and the adventures of their strange land. I was thankful for a sense of place, a home where I made it. I was thankful for Semarang. A shock, a surprise, a blessing.

Sorry this is so long…


PS: If you read this, could you please leave a comment. I'd like an idea of how many people actually look at this.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I Think I Have A Problem

I have a problem.
I, Thomas Robert Stead IX, am addicted to Oreos. In the morning when I wake up I feel tremors. It’s not an earthquake, but rather my body undulating, my stomach screaming “GIVE ME COOKIE!” “GIVE ME COOKIE, NOW!”
I try to deny my stomach. “No, stomach!” “No cookies at 5:20 AM! You know that’s against the ru”
When my stomach gets like this its better to appease it before it starts to threaten me.
Just last week, I denied it Oreos in the middle of my English class and it threatened to tell my principle that I had spit out the delicacy he had given me for breakfast. “YOU GIVE NO COOKIE, I GIVE CULTURALLY ACKWARD MOMENT!”
“Stomach, that’s a real dick move! You know you didn’t want that chicken foot scratching around inside of you. I know how picky you are!”
“Stomach, not in front of the kids!”
Incredibly embarrassed, I excused myself from the confused room of students, and rushed to the nearest toko in search of Oreos.

I clearly have a problem. Sometimes I eat an entire package in a day. In Indonesia, they come in a convenient tube of 12. Only 12! 12 isn’t that many right? Its only 21 grams of fat per serving, each serving is 3 cookies. 84 grams of fat. Its ok, its ok. Except, sometimes I eat 2 packs in a day. And I feel so happy. And I can feel the little Oreos shaking in my thighs quivering like hummingbirds, creating a life of their own as they flap in my fat tissue. I am a host. The roused sucker in a hostile takeover planned between my stomach and the Oreo’s. If my stomach gets its way, Oreo’s will colonize the entirety of my body, and soon little Oreos will be hanging from belly, under my chin, even in my eyelids. They’ll take no prisoners, I will be nothing but a walking urr… sitting/lounging oreo home planet. My stomach and the oreos will have me in chains/sweatpants, and there will be nothing I can do to overcome them. My stomach will be screaming, “COOKIE NOW OR I SKYPE DAD, TELL HIM ABOUT THAT ONE TIME!” or “COOKIE OR I MAKE YOU VOMIT, THEN ONLY HUNGRY FOR MORE COOKIES! HAHAHAHAHA!

How do I defeat the Oreo? How do I come down off of its delicious high? How do I say, “No stomach, I think you should shut up and eat some Broccoli?”
How do I take back my life? This is me officially reaching out for help. Help me before its too late!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Armpits, Stomach Aches, Travel Plans, and my Right Hand Man

Sorry about the two week layoff.
Between being sick and doing a whole lot of nothing, I haven't had much to say or share.

As for the sickness, I was layed-out for about a week with weird stomach pain and acid-reflux. Things are still kinda shaky every once in a while, but mostly better. Unfortunately, as my stomach ailment seems to be fading, a new and totally different one has made its way to shore. I have a large red patch of irritated skin under my armpit, quite similar to one I got in Tanzania while I was in the bush. It looks and feels like the worst sunburn you've ever seen, it hurts tremendously and is currently inhibiting me from moving my arm in any direction without a soundtrack of curse words. Things could be much worse thankfully. In my previous experience with said armpit irritation, I was camping amongst Tanzanian wildlife between Mt.Kilimanjaro and Mt.Meru and had to borrow a girls baby blue wife-beater (majorly stretched in the chest) for 4 days because I didn't have any shirts that wouldn't irritate my pit. Pictures will confirm that i've never looked grosser/more pathetic in my life.

In exciting news, I have awesome travel plans lined up for the coming holidays. For Thanksgiving I'm taking a train to Surabaya (Indo's 2nd largest city) to have dinner at the consulate general's home. From what I hear, the meal is pretty 'merican. Can't wait to dig into some turkey and Mashed PO TA TOES.

For Christmas break I'm spending two weeks in Thailand and Cambodia. Super excited to see Angkor Wat, eat tons of Thai Food, and lye on the beach. So So So psyched.My friend Sarah, whom i'm traveling with, asked me earlier, "Thom, what are you going to do if your armpit isn't healed?"
In contemplating this horrible prospect, I could think of only one answer. I will hire a right hand man. It seems in Asia, you can hire someone to do just about anything.This person would have to do the work of my right hand while I rest on their shoulder and allow my poor swollen armpit to heal. Think about it! Someone to shake hands for you! No Germs! Someone to spoon you cereal while you read the Jakarta post. If you pass out, you still have a hand to hail a taxi. I know what you're all thinking, and no, I wouldn't make the guy wipe. That's just gross. But think about the possibilities! What if the two of us bond into one fluid machine? One brain, two bodies!? Now that would be something to write home about. Until then, I fare thee adieu.

Love you all,


Monday, November 2, 2009

Smile for the Camera

I was in the newspaper last week for giving a speech at a junior high school. I didn't want to do it. My counterpart put me in a situation where I was trapped and couldn't say no. That's Indonesia for you. The schedule I was given prior to the engagement was that I would be meeting with a small group of teachers and students to talk about the joys and benefits of speaking English, assuring them that English is in fact quite easy to learn:)(haha, kill me.)

When I arrived, the small group I had been promised was actually a room of 200 or so students complete with parents, teachers holding welcome signs, photographers snapping photos, and a large table set with podium style microphones. I cursed to myself repeatedly as I hesitantly took my chair at center stage.

The event went as follows:
-A well rehearsed welcome that made me wonder how long they had been planning the event (I had agreed only two days beforehand).
-2 ballads sung by 12 year old girls. The first, Josh Groban's "You Lift Me Up". A painfully awkward and hilarious 3 minutes that no one else found remotely weird or funny. The other song sounded like a Celine Dion B-side-that of course went on and on (pun absolutely intended).
-Question and Answer Session:
"Mr.Thoms", "Please tell our students why English is easy"
"Why is English easy?"
"English isn't easy."

Do you have a girlfriend?

What is your favorite Indonesian food?

Another question:
The p??das??? temple was built in 1637 under the reign of king ???? It took 30 years to construct and was built of stone. Many people visited the temple. In 1981 it became a world heritage site...

->This wasn't actually a question but rather a report that a student wrote (copied from wikipedia) and read aloud to me for several minutes. I just kept waiting for the question to come and it never did.

At last we come to the section seen in the newspaper photo.

After being tortured with 45 minutes of ridiculous questions I am asked to dance.
"I don't want to dance"
"You will dance, yes."
And so on.

I ended by playing Atlantic City on a horrible electric guitar that I couldn't get to stay in tune. The guitar sounded so bad that people began to look away. For a moment, I thought of continuing to play as repayment for my torture, take that Josh Groban, fuck you Celine Dion. Instead, I showed mercy and sang acapella. Girls screamed at the high notes, and whistled the tune long after I finished.

We ended with 20 minutes of photographs. Photographs with the principle, photographs with students, photographs with an ugly batik shirt, photographs with moms and dads, photographs alone. Autographs on homework assignments and flower laden notebooks. Cherished memories of meeting their first native speaker forever enshrined in newsprint.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My House-in the middle of the str....

I've meant to put of pictures of my house for a while. So here you go.
Its not all that exciting but it has some interesting features such as the washing machine with separate wash and spin cycles, the mirror on top of the faucet in the kitchen,the wonder of ant chalk, the rooms i'm not suppose to go in that are unlocked, roof top veranda, and close proximity to mosque. Enjoy.

I live in the left, much smaller portion of this house.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Yogya Weekend!

I spent this last weekend in Yogyakarta (Joke-jakarta) with a bunch of other Fulbrighters. The weekend was a whirlwind story telling/ compare-contrast session complete with never have I ever in a treehouse/bungalow thing 20 feet from the ocean at krakow beach. We ate a ton of amazing food including Lotek from Lollie's school's canteen, Chicken tikka at an Indian place, a tempe burger (with real cheese!) at a baller veggie spot called Milas, and fresh fresh fresh fish at a warang at Krakow beach.

Here are rad some pictures followed by a funny (at least I think it's funny) anecdote. Enjoy.

(Funny Story)

On my way home, a roughly three and half or four hour bus ride, I had to pee badly with an hour or so to go. I wait and I wait and I wait and I squirm and I squirm. I luckily manage to make it to my destination without peeing myself. Unfortunately my home is another 20 minutes by taxi, and i'm definitely not capable of holding it that long. Because its Sunday night, pretty much everything is closed sans a hair salon. I run inside praying to Allah that they have a bathroom and that I'm not going to pee myself. Once inside i'm greeted by two rather boyish indonesian guys one with a bleached blond feux-hawk and another with a gelled ducktail sorta deal. Thankfully they take pitty on the dirty dirty bule that stood before them and showed me the bathroom. After peeing for a solid couple minutes, I washed up walked back into the salon.
As I head back into the room of styling chairs and mirrors Im greeted with a solitary English word.
Asked the feux-hawked boy-man.
His word cut through the self-neglect I had compiled over the week.
I looked at myself in the mirror. My salt watered hair was matted and piled on the side of my head like a mound of unwanted mash potatoes.
I breathe deep."Berapa Hargana?"(How much) I ask. "35,000 ($3.50). I get stuck in economic indecision momentarily. In Indo this expensive, I should pay no more than a 15,000, In the states super-cuts would laugh at you for this price. I look around. This place would be expensive in the states.I'm talking $30 or $40. I reach into my pocket and blindly count my rupiah with the tip of my thumb. Do I need it? No. Should I get it? Probably.
I eventually give-in.
The duck billed boy takes me to a sink where my head is massaged with shampoo for an extraneous amount of time, my thoughts kneeded into wonderment. An abrupt phone call from my counterpart ruins my calm. I lift my head from the sink and hold the phone away from my soapy head.
"Thoms. Where are you!?"
"I'm getting my hair cut"
"I'm getting my hair cut"
"I'm worried about you because of your position"
"I'm fine Pak."
"Call me when you are at your home"
"okay, no problem"
"Yes, its okay, there is no problem.
"Bye, pak".

The boy-man takes me into another room to cut my hair. I try to explain to him that I want
"this much off the sides, and a little bit off the top".
"Yes, yes, ok".
The boy man, unsheaths his scissors and comb, and chops at my unwieldy mop at a speed unknown to man. A blizzard of curly jewish hair is unleashed upon the floor below me, a sight i'm certain its never seen. 15 minutes roll by, and the boy-man keeps cutting and cutting. My desired proportions have long been forgotten, there is perhaps a quarter inch of hair on the side and less than an inch on top except in the front. While cutting my hair I notice that the boy-man is looking up every once and a while to check himself out in the mirror. What I thought was perhaps a dose of vanity on the hairdressers part was actually an architect checking his blueprints. He was giving me his own haircut.

After a moment of sheer terror partnered with low level lamaze breathing. I realized that having a little ducktail in the front was actually not that bad. I had dreaded my whole life looking like a preppy who-haw, and now i realize that its sort of becoming.

Today at school, lots of teachers told me that I was handsome, A far cry from last week's, "Are you sick?" and "You must iron your clothes".
I was all smiles.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Yoygakarta: Street Art City

I spent the day before going to Bali in Yogyakarta, the cultural capital of Java, and the former home of the king of Java. Yogya, as its called here, is a college town chock full of talented artists and musicians. Everywhere you go their is amazing graffiti and murals sprawling liberal youth political ideology and imagination.

The pictures posted below are of some street art I saw near a market, the kings water palace (yes it was full of water), and some pictures from the bird market.

Bali: Beaches, Blokes, and Bintang.

I spent last weekend visiting the Island of Bali, about an hour flight west of Java. On my first day, I took a surf lesson at Puta Beach with a local surfer who's name I regretfully forget. During my two hour lesson, I spent maybe a total of maybe 1.5 minutes riding waves (I caught 6 ), and the rest falling, paddeling, lurching,and fucking my shit up while my instructor yelled/laughed at me. All in all the excitement and sensation of catching a wave made up for the 118 minutes worth of sunburn, beaten legs, and bruised ego.

Puta beach is perhaps the worst place to stay in Bali. Although it has a beautiful beach and a bounty of bars and restaurants, the drunken Austrailian and European tourists dressed proudly in their newly purchased Bintang Beer tank tops make you think twice about why you would ever want to visit. Luckily on our second day we caught a travel car provided by a friend of a friend and visited Ubid, a cool, quit(er), town in the interior of Bali. While their we visited a beautiful hindu water temple, ate delicious burritos (this is a big deal, try going two months without a burrito. That's really hard), and visited a local market. If Ubid had a beach it would be heaven on earth. Even without one it was pretty damn close.

Life, School, and Violent Handwashing

I know I said in my last post (like a month ago) that I was sorry for the lack of updates and that I would do a better job of posting things. This time i'm actually sorry, and promise to post things more frequently.

In the past month a lot of things have happened. I moved into my big empty apartment in Semarang, I began teaching at MAN 1 Semarang, I turned 23 years old, and I visited Bali amongst many other things.

My first day of school at MAN 1 Semarang (Madrasah Aliyah Negeri 1) just happened to coincide with the end of Ramadan. After Ramadan, it is custom to go to all of your friends, family, and neighbors to ask for their forgiveness (regardless of whether you've done them wrong). To celebrate this tradition at my school all of the students line up (all 1,300 of them) and shake each teachers hand. I'm personally no germiphobe, those of you that know me well would probably agree, but in this case the idea of shaking so many kids hands they day after they arrived back from their villages seemed like the best way to spread/create a megavirus if I had ever heard of one. Standing in the hot sun shaking students dressed in identical uniforms was quite nauseating- waves of white blue swirling before my bule (term for foreigner) eyes. After the ceremony I ran and washed my hands as though they were fire. I've never scrubbed so hard. This is not hyperbole.

Other than the violent hand washing on the first day, school has been pretty good. Most of the teachers are very excited about learning English, and often come to visit me throughout the day to practice conversation or to bring me some sort of Indonesian snack. I get alot of Cassava chips, fried tempe (fried everything really),little fish things, mangos, pears, uber sweet juices and soups, and gado gado (spinich, onion, tofu, with chili peanut sauce served at room temp)- by far my favorite.

In between classes I have taken to playing ping-pong with some of the other teachers. I'm learning to put spin on the ball, forehand, backhand, and SMASH! as they love to yell at me. Sometimes i'm good and can keep up, but most of the time my performance is inconsistent with a few flashes of brilliance. I hope to be good by the time I leave.

Things in the classroom have been a little slow. I spent the first week observing the different English teachers and the second sitting around while students took exams. This week I am finally in the classroom teaching, trying to gauge the various speaking levels of my students and put together a plan for how I want to approach each level. Teachers and older students at the school seem to have a good understanding of grammar and comprehension. The major issue at stake is that neither the students nor the majority of the teachers speak English well. A lot this has to do with the shy nature of the culture, and the limitations placed on schools by rigorous state exams, which only test students on grammar and comprehension (not speaking). My role is to make brave English speakers out of both the students and the teachers. A tall task if i've ever heard one. I must say though, that I have high hopes for the school. So far, teachers and students alike have shown a great interest in improving their speaking skills, hopefully I can deliver.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Here are some pictures from a trip I took to a Volcanic Crater outside of Bandung.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


Sorry for the lack of posts. Things have been a little crazy I needed to settle in and process things before I started blabbering about them. Anyway, here are a few of the photos I have taken so far.