Guru saya Anna – My teacher Anna

My first online Bahasa Indonesia teacher was Anna. She lives in Ubud in Bali and her proudest achievement is that she has never worked in Jakarta as is the norm for many Indonesian university graduates. The other thing you have to know about Anna is that she wouldn’t marry her husband unless he knew the difference between anthropology and sociology. I still don’t know the difference myself but I wasn’t marrying her so no matter for me. Maybe one day she’ll explain this to me. Oh I forgot one more thing the person she marries also has to be able to cook nasi goreng.  Luckily, he did.  

Anna started teaching me Indonesian online back in 2013 through the school CB. I stipulated to the school that my teacher only speak to me in Indonesian – bicara bahasa Indonesia saja – no matter how slow the process was. It was no doubt quite painful for Anna, and probably still is for all my Indonesian teachers, but its the quickest way to develop your fluency in any language, using only the language.

Plastik Detox Bali, a campain that Anna helped get off the ground.

Not only was I a language purist who barred my teachers from using English, about a month or two into my prepaid bulk bought lessons I was diagnosed with breast cancer – kanker payudara. The next six months were me doing surgery, chemo and radiation and my online Indonesian lessons with Anna. Not only did I insist on having lessons only in the target language, Indonesian, but also I was going through intense and painful treatments. I was a very difficult customer, more so than usual, thanks to the cancer situation. I was grumpy, possibly wasted on treatment drugs with chemo brain and also possibly wasted on the ‘special biscuits’ a friend gave me. I was not friendly and was no doubt very rude to Anna. I don’t really know how she put up with me. Dia tahan dengan saya – she did put up with me.  And I am glad she did put up with me.  

I got through the treatment and eventually went back to work. I continued my lessons once a week through the years. However, eventually it had to end, Anna got a scholarship to study Environmental Management and Development In Canberra. So for Anna it was a golden opportunity or peluang emas, to study abroad in English.  But for me it meant I had to get another teacher, and poor them, it wasn’t their faults but no-one ever lived up to Anna!

Much to my surprise Anna stayed in touch after she left me as my teacher. She sent me emails in Indonesian every now and then telling me about her life in Oz. I couldn’t understand how she wanted to be in touch, even be my friend, as I must’ve been the murid dari neraka – student from hell. But I sure am glad she did.

Warung Vinaka Magelangan, photo by Valerie Derbaudrenghien.

When I wrote this blog I went through my old emails from Anna, she was there emailing me every step of the way from afar.  It brings tears to my eyes now as I read her emails and even my replies back to her explaining what stage of cancer treatment I was at, like, kemoterapi sudah selesai – chemotherapy was finished. At the time as it was hard to leave the house and see people, messages and emails really did mean a lot.  It was news I could get at my own pace. Any mails in my beloved bahasa Indonesia really took my mind off treatment.  

One time when Ann was in Canberra, she wrote telling me ‘saya rindu Bali’ – I miss Bali. I desperately wanted to tell her that she needed to get over that as I suspected her time in Oz would only be a year or two, just as long as the scholarship. She loves her birth country so much so she wasn’t interested in extending her time away. I wrote back telling her I had the same experience when I lived in Japan , the longing to be home, but it was all silly because after I moved back to Australia I missed Japan. I told her to make the most of her time in Australia and promised she would always have her beloved Indonesia.

We never did meet in Australia because she was in Canberra and I live in Perth. She did invite me to her wedding but with me being a teacher myself it was very difficult getting any non-school-holiday days off, and you needed at least a Monday or a Friday tacked on to the weekend by the time you got to Canberra, so I never went to the wedding. She always lives in places that are a bit harder to get to or tempat sulit sampai, Canberra, Ubud, same but different.

Warung Vinaka’s Pecel Noodles, photo by Valerie Derbaudrenghien.

Anna went back to Indonesia and probably much to the other teacher’s relief became my teacher again. She taught me songs by Koes Plus and Titiek Puspa.  They are famous Indonesian 1960s artists that I love dearly.  Their songs are also very easy to learn, particularly ‘kapan kapan’ (someday) about meeting up again someday.  Have a listen https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ml_LdcUwBs0.  

She taught me Indonesian slang words like pede meaning self confident, from percaya diri.  My favourite was kurang ajar which basically means someone is ignorant.  Pesing was a winner too as it means ‘the pungent smell of piss in the toilet’, when it sounds almost like ‘pissing’, its pretty easy to remember.  And last but not least is cebok which is the process of cleaning your anus or vagina after a poo or a wee with water and a scoop.  

Anna also patiently helped me read an Indonesian novel by the famous NH Dini.  She picked it out especially for me as it was about Indonesians living in Japan, so I could completely relate to it.  Every week she would produce something unusual and fun to teach me Indonesian. Unfortunately I forgot a lot pretty quickly but as she always spoke to me in Indonesian she was fundamental in me developing some conversational fluency in Indonesian. Not only that she is my friend and mentor too.

Warung Vinaka’s Pork Rendang Noodles, photo by Valerie Derbaudrenghien.

When I was tired of going to Bali I told her that I wanted to go somewhere different to study Indonesian and asked her where she thought best. She recommended I go to Yogyakarta (Jogja) and study at WB. She knew they were pretty good at what they do. It turned out she was right as usual. She even put me in touch with her awesome friends in Jogja so I could hang with them.

Anna is truly a decent person. If I want anything I ask her first as she knows good people. Good people know good people. I don’t think she will teach me this year as she has bigger and better things to do with her life. Anna and her husband have a warung in Ubud called Warung Vinaka .  He even makes his own noodles and without prejudice I must say they are enak sekali – very delicious. They build the business together with him taking care of the food and the business side; while she takes care of the customers.  If you are interested in knowing the difference between anthropology and sociology, you could probably visit Andi at Warung Vinaka and find out by asking him first hand.

Warung Vinaka,
Jl. Suweta km.2,5 Banjar Bentuyung Sakti, No 39, Ubud, Gianyar, Bali 80571, Indonesia

Besides the warung, Anna is heavily involved with causes like a waste prevention campaign she initiated with 3 others in 2012 called Plastik Detox Bali  as well as free animal sterilisation programs like Bali Pet Crusaders.

She said we can hang out from time to time though and I am very grateful to have her in my life, even though she is in Bali and I’m in Perth.

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