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.

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