The Beauty of Borneo

Three months into my exchange year, I had become slightly complacent. The beauty of Bandung became less interesting and lost the spark it had at the beginning. Seeking something new to rejuvenate my love for Indonesia, an amazing opportunity fell on my lap. Yeni, a former YES student (Indonesian who went to the states for a year) invited all the YES Abroad Indonesia students to come to Pontianak for four days to participate in her program, Be an American High School Student for a day

If you don’t know, Pontianak is the capital of West Kalimantan, which is a part of Borneo, a completely different island than Java. All the YES students are on Java, so exploring a new island together sounded like a lot of fun. 

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We live all across Java, the island below Borneo

After endless planning to make sure everything went smoothly, I threw some clothes in a bag and went with my family to Jakarta. My host family happened to have business in Jakarta at the time, so they could properly send me off as I got on a plane with my American friends to Pontianak. 

My amazing host family sending me off!
My amazing host family sending me off!

Being exchange students, money is not incredibly abundant; so we chose the cheapest fight possible. Thankfully, flying inside Indonesia is very cheap, because our tickets were only 900,000 IDR round trip! That comes out to ~67 USD. The flight was a little shaky, but when you’re with friends, nothing can really phase you.

We rolled into Pontianak late that night to be warmly greeted by Yeni and other AFS volunteers. They were waiting for us with an American flag and lots of smiles. We got in assorted cars and made a motorcade to the house we stayed at to get some rest. 

Arrival at the airport
Arrival at the airport

The next morning, in the full sunlight, I realized just how incredibly hot Pontianak is. Every day we were there, the temperature hovered around 34° Celsius, or 93° Fahrenheit. We all got up and ate breakfast, content not knowing what we were going to do that day. All the Americans have become very accustomed to the idea of rubber time, so we were not stressed about not knowing what’s coming up.

We went to a local high school, SMA 3 Pontianak. The school was large and colorful, and the students were so excited to meet us. I could see kids’ heads popping around the corners pointing and staring at us as we walked to a presentation room. We gave an hour presentation talking about America, and how our high school works. The concept of moving classrooms, prom, and Friday night football made all the kids squeal and you could see the gears turning in their heads, imagining such a different high school experience. 

Making people laugh as I like to do
Making people laugh as I like to do

The student body then showed us outside where they preformed a local West Kalimantan dance for us. It was so well organized and involved almost one hundred students.

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They Danced with Baskets and large knives

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All us Americans wearing the West Kalimantan local neck scarves
All us Americans wearing the West Kalimantan local neck scarves
The students made welcoming signs for each one of us
The students made welcoming signs for each one of us

We then showed some “American Culture” to the student body by doing the Cha-Cha slide, which devolved into a dance party where us Americans got shown up by some amazing student dancers

These two girls were amazing dancers
These two girls were killing it

Going to SMA 3 that day was my first sign of the beauty of Borneo. There was something different about the place beyond the heat and local dialect. Everyone was so friendly, and I felt so wonderfully accepted into their community.

Later that day, we went to the Pontianak Museum, and got to read into more of the culture. There was some amazing pieces on Dayak, the local people, and how they lived. We got to read on how the local culture was also infused with Malay culture, and how they treated weddings, pregnancies, and death. Among all this fantastic culture, which I dearly enjoyed, we only took this one goofy photo.

This photo was the catalyst for lots of puns
This photo was the catalyst for lots of puns

The entourage of AFS volunteers then took us to the local mosque, which was breathtaking. It is one of the biggest mosques in Borneo, and had plenty of spots for us to explore. We were not allowed to enter the main prayer room and the girls had to cover their hair and legs, but just seeing the beautiful building and the bustle of a large mosque was exciting. 

 

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Nat and Bev with their makeshift Hijabs

We rushed to see the equatorial line so we would be done before the looming storm clouds decided to explode, and I though this was a fantastic add-on to an already memorable trip. I remember as a kid going to Carowinds theme park and standing on the North/South Carolina border line, and thinking just how cool that was. Now, I had one foot in each hemisphere! 

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The rest of the day was spent with going to a boat ride on the largest river in Indonesia and going durian shopping. I ended up finally trying a durian and the creamy and slimy inside of this spiky fruit was so off putting to me that we all had a good laugh about it.

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We went back to SMA 3 the next day to finish the American School presentation. Instead of just talking about it, we each taught a class and had the kids participate in complete English. I had photography, and it was a blast. I got to interact with the kids and share laughs, and they seemed to like the class. 

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We had them switch classes, play the pledge of allegiance, and had morning announcements, just like a typical American high school.

We had some down time, which was spent playing a “teachers vs students” basketball game which was completely unfair, since we looked like the “Monstars” from Space Jam compared to these kids. 

I was... Celebrating(?) in this photo
I think I was celebrating (?) in this photo

At the end of the day, the students took hundreds of selfies with us, and we were profusely thanked for our time. Many of the students had never left the island, and had never met an American in person. When I asked my classes if they’ve ever met an American, I had one kid say, “No, but I saw High School Musical” which I thought was hilarious, but pretty unrepresentative of American high school. 

Teacher Selfie
Teacher Selfie
Us with our students!
Us with our students!

We headed out, the kids sad to see us go, and had an AFS party that night at the presidents house. AFS Chapter Pontianak is only a sending chapter, so they have never hosted a student. We were the first AFS students to visit Pontianak, and they were so warm to welcome us, hoping to prove they are ready to host students. I was overwhelmed by their hospitality and kindness, and I hope they start hosting students soon.

Before we left, I had one request. Borneo is known for its thick and dense jungles, since it is on the equator. Meeting me in the middle because we did not have enough time before our flight left, we went to a semi-jungle area about an hour away from the city. The local people were fascinated by us, and cooked us some rice and greens while we sipped on local coffee. A man asked us if we wanted coconuts, and then proceeded to climb a towering coconut tree and just start whacking, making it rain coconuts. The coconuts, along with the local people sitting with us Americans in a small shack on the edge of a jungle, made me really appreciate Borneo. This was a fantastic end to my trip with my friends. 

The little hut we were staying in
The little hut we were staying in 
Walking across a fallen tree to get a little hike into the jungle
Jeremiah walking across a fallen tree to get a little hike into the jungle
On our way, a jungle walk full of mud and mosquitoes
On our way, a jungle walk full of mud and mosquitoes
Coconuts and Coffe
Coconuts and Coffee
Awkward photo but a good time
Awkward photo but a good time

Later that day, we thanked everyone who helped us and hopped on a plane back to Jakarta. Once I was got in the car on my way to Bandung, away from my new friends and the core group of exchange students, I had some time to reflect. I really felt the love and hospitality from the people of Pontianak, and I’m so grateful to them. They embodied the beauty of Borneo certainty, but also Indonesia. It re-opened my eyes to the natural beauty of my area in Java but also the kindness and love I get from my host family and friends here. So thanks to Borneo, hopefully one day I can come again. 

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With my love of music, I want to share one of the songs that I listened to while writing this post. When drafting this post, my favorite song was Me and Your Mama by Childish Gambino

Also, 2 Chainz tried the worlds most expensive coffee, Kopi Luwak, which comes from Indonesia and is farmed close to my house in Bandung. If you have a good sense of humor, click here to check it out