By Brooke Nolan (Semester 27/Aug 2008)
Curtin University

“Why do you like going to Indonesia?” I was asked shortly before leaving for my ACICIS semester in Malang. Why do people like chocolate? Or good wine? Or spectacular sunsets? As with these questions, I had never considered exactly why I have been smitten with this resplendent hodge-podge of a country ever since I first stepped foot in it. Was it the pheremones? Indonesia certainly gets you hot and bothered. (Apologies to all respectable, sensible people trying to get through of this gobbledygook.)

So I started a list.

Throughout the semester I would jot down reasons why I love Indonesia. My reasons ranged from the sublimely philosophical to the utterly trite and everything in between. For example, reason number 23: Because of the inexorable optimism in this country – dunia salju (snow world) near Banjarmasin is proof of this. Or reason number 746: Because words like lika-liku (vagaries) are fun.

I would recommend keeping a list like this for anyone who will be dealing with a) that throng of troglodytes shuffling around kantor imigrasi (immigration office), or b) any hospital in the country. And that is every anak ACICIS. On a really bad day (ie. see earlier troglodyte reference), my list cheered me up. But that was not the main purpose of my list. I had less than five “really bad” days out of five months in Indonesia. My list is a record of all the ways Indonesia has rewarded me. The days of high-falutin’ tomfoolery and nights spent squiffed on Sosro have been set in stone. Or at least software. The old ACICIS cowboy crew and various comrades who got caught up in the rabble will attest to this.

Here are a few more of my reasons:

– Because anytime I’m feeling a bit off colour all I have to do is pop down to the local magic man or have someone scrape something dodgy down my back and I’ll be healed.

– Because of the tawar-menawar (bargaining) concept – doing a bit of translation for a week in exchange for free food in Kupang.

– Because here you can say, Hati-hati (Be careful). Hantu-hantu (Ghosts). And not only sound smart and quirky but make perfect sense as well.

– Because Indonesia makes me a more open person.

– Because of the two Merpati women at Waikabubak airport who protected me from my stalker.

– Because of the food. All of it. Except dog.

– Because Flores is the only place in the world where tying five live goats to the roof of the bus and travelling up and down for 200km is considered normal.

– Because the starfish off Flores are spectacular.

– Because I learned so much about Indonesia and about myself in such a short time.

– Because the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club meetings I managed to get invited to gave me a fascinating insight into Indonesian power relations.

– Because Indonesians are so inclusive.

– Because the guy selling big, delicious East Javanese mangoes for rp. 10 000/ 3kg (just over A$1) is only a 5 minute walk away from my place.

– Because where else could I become friends with the prince and princess of a magnificent little island like Alor and be taught by the princess how to cook local cuisine?

– Because that time we got a litre of “Indonesian Vodka” for rp. 15 000/ litre (~ A$2) my head didn’t hurt the following day. Miraculously.

– Because Indonesia teaches me patience.

You may be wondering how many reasons I found. I thought when I left Indonesia the list would be finished. Nice and tidy, spick and span, very Western. But Indonesia had other ideas. That old scallywag kept reminding me of more reasons to add to my list. That means I’m still scrawling away like a kid who hasn’t finished when the exam’s over and she’s hoping the teacher won’t notice her scribbling a few more answers down.

So next time someone asks me why I keep feeling the urge to skedaddle back to Indonesia, instead of looking at them confounded like some sort of gormless half-wit, I will whip out my list and ask them where they would like to start.