I got up early Sunday morning, walked to Gambir train station in Jakarta, and rode all day through bright green rice paddies to Yogyakarta (sounds like Jogjakarta; Yogya for short) in Central Java. In case you were wondering, even the Executive class train cars smell like Indonesia.
This week I’m taking bahasa Indonesia classes. After studying on my own for a month, I fully appreciated the benefits of a teacher during my first day of class. Yogyakarta has the best, cheapest language classes because it is the cultural heart of Java, and there are lot of university students who come from all over to study here. I’m going to learn so much faster with a teacher! Hopefully in a week I will progress enough to be comfortable traveling places where no one speaks English.
Sunday night was my first in Yogya. I set a new personal record for budget lodging – 40,000IDR, less than $5. My previous record was $5, set in the most remote corner of China I visited. There, I had a tiny room with two single beds in what I would call a shack. A Chinese guy I met on a train was in the other bed. Not only was there no toilet or shower in our room, there was none in the entire building (which consisted of our room, the owner’s room, and a small entryway). We had to pee out back in the grass.
This time was totally different. I had a room to myself in a place that looked like a real(ly old) guest house, a bathroom with shower, and a queen sized bed. But, no air conditioning, hot water, and – a first for me – blankets of any kind. An omission so spartan is only possible in the tropics, and not ideal even here. Oh, and the bed was a thin pad on a piece of plywood and cinder blocks.
The first day of class at Wisma Bahasa went well. I realized today that one of the most important skills of a language teacher is talking to someone who sucks at talking. Those Jakarta taksi drivers I was trying to practice with until now were hopeless compared to trained teachers. Who would have thought, right? The teaching method they use is interesting. They start with the environment around us in the classroom, so from day one we can pretty much exclusively use Indonesian to communicate. The philosophy is to put you in situations where you are motivated to communicate, so that learning language is fun and useful all the time. Today we went through introductions, classroom objects, clothing, and colors.
Although I liked the place I was staying last night, if only for bragging rights, I decided to change locations for the rest of the week. Wisma Bahasa has relationships with local families who host ‘homestays’. Not only are these much closer to the classroom than my shack, they also offer even better value. I’m paying about $15 dollars a night now which includes air conditioning, hot water, breakfast, dinner, laundry, wi-fi, and even blankets! I helped wash the dishes tonight because I felt guilty.