My First Week in Pangkalan Bun

I have been in Kalimantan for 2 weeks and of those 2 weeks, have been in Pangkalan Bun for just over a week now. We traveled to Pangkalan Bun by night bus after spending some time with Bu Arfa’s family in Palangka Raya for Lebaran and being dark, I read or slept most of the way. Considering the road is so narrow and bumpy, I was amazed at how smoothly the bus ride was. I think this was largely due to the fact that other vehicles are intimidated by bus drivers and happily surrender the road to them! We got into Pangkalan Bun at 2am where we were met by Bu Arfa’s husband who had driven here in a friends car. We didn’t join them in the car because there wasn’t enough room and we were also much more comfortable in the bus!
It has taken a while for me to adjust to being back in Pangkalan Bun as the day after we returned, school started! Then the second day found me on my way back to Palangka Raya! I had a fantastic time in Palangka Raya and thoroughly enjoyed experiencing a school debating competition and having the opportunity to meet Bu Wahyu’s warm and generous family who kindly agreed to put me up while there for the debate.
However by Friday, after 2 days of traveling and 1 day of debating, I was exhausted and took the day off to recover. It was so lovely to stop and do nothing but read and catch up with my washing and other boring jobs! I spent most of the day in the sitting room in front of a fan reading books on my kindle! Bliss!
I also packed for my weekend with Bu Wahyu and her family here in Pangkalan Bun. I went home with her after a very short school day as it was an election day for students to vote for their senior SRC committee. Once the campaigning was finished, we headed off. We first stopped for some es buah

20130828-191252.jpgand then dropped off to buy some rambutans which are just coming into season

and then went to the market to buy tofu and vegetables for lunch. I love visiting Indonesian markets. There was a huge fire here the night we returned to Pangkalan Bun which wiped out a large section of the market however while there are still people sifting through the coals, the market continues around the carnage.

The market here is built very close to the main river which runs through the town and the stalls closer to the river, are built on wooden planks. By the time we reached the fish section of the market which is very close to the river because that is where the fish are farmed, I noticed that the floorboards were quite a way off the ground so I had to watch my step with some of the loose and warped boards. The added benefit of the fish stalls being so high off the ground meant that all water used to wash the fish drained straight down through the boards! Surprisingly the only smell was that of the fresh fish which although didn’t smell like rotting meat, was still very strong! The fish stalls were a mixture of dried fish, filleted fish and live fish. While Bu Wahyu was waiting for her order of fish to be completed, we constantly had to jump sidewards to avoid being splashed by fish thrashing about in shallow tubs of water! The beauty of keeping them alive is that at the end of the day, they can be returned to the fish farms for another day.
With our shopping completed we headed home where I was delighted to discover that we would be having cassava leaves in coconut milk and stuffed tofu. While Bu Wahyu made the cassava leaf dish, I stuffed the tofu! I absolutely love stuffed tofu and have introduced many friends to it, so I was thrilled to be shown how to make it myself. The stuffing is made from bean sprouts, grated carrot, and finely chopped cabbage which is boiled briefly and drained firstly. A slit is made in one end of the tofu and then it is stuffed with the vegetable mixture. This was surprisingly easier done than I thought it would be.

The tofu parcels are then dipped in a batter

and then fried till golden.



That night we took Bu Wahyu’s daughter to ‘Bundaran’. It i shard to explain in a few words what it is but I will try! It is a little like a night market except the focus is more on entertainment for children than food. There are all sorts of fun things for children to do. For the really young ones, there are ponds full of plastic fish with a magnet on them and children can hire a fishing rod to go fishing. They sit there for a set amount of time filling up a bucket with all the many fish they catch! For the older children there are quad bikes to ride,

electric scooters


people powered scooters

or jazzed up peddle bikes where everyone peddles!

As you can see Bu Wahyu’s daughter had lots of fun riding on some of them!
The following day Bu Wahyu and her family took me to Pantai Kubu which is half an hour out of Pangkalan Bun. From Pantai Kubu, they chartered a klotok (boat) to take us across a huge bay to a white sandy spit. The spit is called Tanjung Keluang and is an educational and recreational park. The educational program here is about turtles and includes releasing them into the ocean. Bu Wahyu paid for both her daughter and me to release a 2 month turtle which was fun although the turtles seemed way to small to be able to survive independently!


That was the weekend! Because in Indonesia, students go to school for 6 days, the weekend is only Sunday and it goes past so quickly! There is definitely a move here in Indonesia for schools to change to a 5 day week but so far the schools that have done so seem to be mainly in the larger cities and so far here I have heard of only one school here that has done so!
School the next day though went quickly even though I was very tired after my fantastic weekend and also having to return to early mornings once again. School starts at 6:30, so the alarm is once again being set for 5am!
Being Monday morning, the school day began with the flag raising ceremony. After the ceremony which is compulsory for all staff and students to attend, the female students were all dismissed as were all teaching staff. he male students were all then lined up in rows in front of the principal, and the 2 deputies who then closely examined the length and cut of each boys haircut. If their hair was deemed to be too long or inappropriately cut, then they were singled out while the rest were dismissed and told to go to class. One by one, the group of remaining boys were called out to either the principal or one of the deputies who was holding a pair of nail scissors. They then proceeded to trim the boys hair to the desired length! This happens at the beginning of every school year so I am puzzled why there is always a large group of boys who end up having a very unprofessional hair cut. I couldn’t imagine anything worse!


I spent the first double with Bu Wahyu as she taught a class of year 10’s. This was her first time meeting this class and so we spent the lesson asking them to introduce themselves to us in English. Writing and then presenting orally this introduction took a double lesson, although to be honest, by the time the last of the boys trickled back to class, the first lesson was almost over! They did a great job and were nowhere near as shy as I thought they would be.
I next accompanied Bu Evita to her double year 11 biology lesson. The first lesson was spent introducing me and talking about Australia and then the second lesson was a lesson on cellular structure. I found it fascinating linguistically because once again much of the language used is taken almost straight from English with only the spelling adjusted to Indonesianise it! Bu Evita is a very engaging teacher and it was obvious that her students enjoy her lessons and have a close relationship with her.
Straight after this lesson, Bu Arfa and I headed home as we needed to take Bapak and her son Ari to the airport for their flight to Surabaya in Java. Ari is studying in Malang, and is about to move into a shared house, so Bapak went with him to make sure the move all went smoothly, It was funny at the airport, because for the first time it wasn’t me leaving! It must have seemed odd for the locals there to see a western person as part of the farewelling committee! We had to take the car to get them and their luggage to the airport which was okay getting to the airport, but was a hoot getting home. Their car is a very old car and without doubt if the car was in Australia, there is no way it would be allowed on the road. We both had a go at driving it and it is easily the hardest car I have ever had to drive. The gears seemed to be all together except for reverse which was nowhere to be found! The brake was good however needed pumping! I don’t know what was scarier being in the passenger seat or in the drivers seat! We made it to the salon where I got my hair cut and coloured for AUD$7! She did a brilliant job! However on our trip home, Bu Arfa stalled at the traffic lights because we had a police car behind us, and when she nervously tried to go around the corner on the green light and the car stalled and it refused to restart. Thankfully a group of young lads sitting at a warung jumped out on to the road and helped push us a little way up the road so that we weren’t in the intersection and from there Bu Arfa called the bengkel (mechanic). They finally arrived and they too couldn’t start it, so they lent us a motorbike to get home on! What an eventful trip home!
Today was a lot smoother! I accompanied another English teacher this morning. Pak Hujen firstly covered for Bu Wahyu who was sick and they had to translate an English text about the Taj Mahal into Indonesian. It was an incredibly difficult piece of writing with words like ‘mausoleum’, ‘spherical’ and ‘symmetrical’. The text was largely lifted straight from wikipedia! I read it and then we translated it together. When the bell went, Pak Hujen turned to me and asked me what was the homework I wanted them to do! I was flummoxed because I am not a big believer in homework and yet I knew I should set them something, so I just asked them to finish translating the first paragraph!
After this lesson, we then headed to his class where I helped him with his English lesson about sea lions! We read through it together and then talked about it generally. Pak Hujen then invited the class to ask me any questions about sea lions seeing as they are found in Australia! Wow, is every Australian an expert on sea lions? I just based my answers on the seals found on the beaches on the Fleurieu Peninsular and hoped I wasn’t too far off the truth! One question was whether sea lions could be eaten and the other was if they could domesticated! For the first question I explained that they are a protected species and for the second I suggested that possibly a female could but definitely not a male! Do you agree?
It was then ‘recess’ which is the first break in the school day. I joined staff and students in the library where as usual, Bu Mariana was cooking bakwan in between selling drinks and selling bakwan. I enjoyed eating my bakwan dipped in a mixture of chili sauce & kecap manis which was absolutely yummy! The staff sat at the library desk while students sat at all the library tables. It was packed with people eating and drinking! Once again, I found it so strange buying and eating food in a library! When the bell rang, the students all got up and went and paid for what ever they had eaten. With them all crowding around the desk, it was bedlam yet no one stressed and everyone seemed to be honest!
On our way home, it started to rain just as we reached the warung where we were heading for lunch. So we sat and enjoyed some of the nicest gado gado I have ever eaten while listening to the rain.

20130828-062119.jpgDelicious steamed veggies with ketupat and covered in peanut sauce made with real peanuts!! I asked for a chili and so it was quite spicy too which is why I think it made it even yummier than usual.
After the rain finished, we headed home. While driving along, Bu Arfa noticed that her motorbike was making some strange noises so she stopped into the bengkel (mechanics) near her house. I love bengkels because you can just drop in when ever, no need to book, and someone will immediately see to your problem.

20130828-062637.jpgImmediately a mechanic came over and not only gave her motorbike an oil change but also reattached her number plate! The mechanics here wear shorts and t shirts and often only have thongs on their feet!
What a great start to my time here in Pangkalan Bun! Bu Arfa keeps me busy and is always taking me to interesting places! It is so hard finding time to blog about it all, but I am having a wonderful time and hopefully I can at least share with you a fraction of it all!


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