We’re living in the moment, I think? That’s why I just noticed we’re already halfway through January. At this moment I’m trying to get to school on time, remember coworkers’ names, and prevent mosquito-borne illnesses. I’m also eating as many noodles as possible and taking photos of rice fields, because rice.
The noodle of this particular moment is mie pangsiet, a thinner boiled noodle where you add the hot sauces and broth yourself. You can make it as soupy as you want. It’s usually topped with shredded chicken, and there’s almost always a handful of lettuce leaves hiding at the bottom as a fun surprise.
But to celebrate 2019, mie wasn’t on the menu. New Year’s Eve meant one thing here, and that’s fish.
Try and tell me this fish is not the Tin Man in marine form. Straight from Wizard of Oz Under the Sea if you ask me. Anyway, we grilled him on the pavement on New Year’s Eve, slathered him in spicy chili sauce called sambal, and paired him with nasi putih because duh.
Two days later, the school where I’ve been placed reopened following the holiday. Although it’s still a public school, it’s just been renamed as a military academy. So the students salute me sometimes and I don’t yet know how I’m supposed to respond. In the past two weeks, I started co-teaching a few tenth grade classes with two of my counterparts. We’re learning about will and be going to, and we’re making fortune teller origami because who knows what the future may hold. The school day starts earlier in Indonesia, with the first class at 6:45, and the last ending at 3:15 (and for students prepping for national exams, sometimes until 5). The school building wraps around this stunning courtyard. I am beyond lucky to be teaching here.
Outside of school, I’m still learning my way around. I met a friend of a friend who’s going to be my new language tutor. I joined my host family at church two weekends in a row which is a personal record. I ate snails for the first time ever, and I’m still alive—everything is so alive.
Every Sunday morning for two hours, the city blocks off the main street right by the mall for Car Free Day. They open up the avenue to pedestrians and cyclists, and venders line the street. There’s a busy, slow-moving crowd set on shopping for food, clothes, toys, books—everything under the matahari. An English teacher from my school invited me to meet him there last weekend at 6:30 am, and I did. You’d think that more than 100 days into life in Indonesia, I’d have adjusted to the early starts. Buuuuuuuuut change is slow. Integration is a process. We’re in this for the long haul. Will wake up early, but…. Naps naps naps naps.
At Car Free Day, I was introduced to gethuk, a snack that starts with a chunk of cassava sweetened with brown sugar. The cassava chunk is topped with sticky red rice, pink tapioca pearls, something green for fun, coconut, and sugary syrup. Wrapped up in banana leaves and fastened with a toothpick, its the perfect to-go snack.
And at home, post-nap, we’re making more snacks. Mango season may’ve come and gone already, but I prepped a bunch for the freezer. So now we’re blending fruit smoothies. Frozen bananas, frozen mangos, sometimes some cinnamon and peanut butter. And the base is almost always coconut milk, or santan, in Bahasa Indonesia. And we’re making it ourselves.
How to make coconut milk
Coconut milk comes from the pulp of coconut meat (as opposed to coconut water, which is collected fresh from the coconut itself). Let’s start with shredded coconut. I buy half a fresh coconut at the city’s largest market, appropriately named pasar besar, and the vender slides it through the shredder for me. Half a coconut (about 3 cups shredded) makes roughly 6 cups of coconut milk.
The ratio: one part shredded fresh coconut to two parts water. Combine in a large pot. Bring it to a boil, simmer for about 5 minutes, and then let it cool completely. Strain and press through a fine-mesh sieve, store in a covered container in the fridge, and then set the solid coconut shreds aside. (You can keep the shredded coconut in the fridge for a few days to add to oatmeal or yogurt.)
Chances are you won’t ever need to make coconut milk at home. But at 5,000 rupiah for half a coconut (or about 33 cents) in Indonesia, I can count on enough to last throughout the week.
Happy snacking. Leaving you with these pals that belong on a calendar. I may’ve not seen a dog in four months, but we’re making do with these guys.