By Dave Hodgkin (Semester 19/Aug 2004)
Australian National University

My life has had its share of adventures this year, in reality though most of anyone’s time is the day-to-day of living. “Life is what happens between the things we do”. Not sure this will pass the Benny test, but then he was a hard task master.

“If you would not be forgotten, As soon as you are dead and rotten,
either write things worthy reading, or do things worth the writing”

Benjamin Franklin

Then who’s to judge what’s worth doing or reading? Certainly not I.

I’m sitting in my bedroom in my new ‘Kost’, boarding house in Jl Tidar, Malang. It is in fact just a family home with two rooms rented out, one to me and one to a Catholic Brother from Flores Island. ‘Frater’ is here in Malang studying for his Masters in Theology and Philosophy. He also studies English part-time at the same language school as me, which is how I found out about the place. The school is 360 well warn steps away from here and the rooms are large and clean, which makes it ideal for me

The owner of my kost, or ‘Pak Kost” (House Father), is a widower of 6 years named Pak Eddy. His two children live and study in Jakarta and come home for holidays, while he does a range of things aside from the kost to make a living. Primarily, Pak Eddy has a business cleaning toilets for private houses. He brings the cisterns and seats home and scrubs and polishes them, making the chrome all new and shiny and the plastic or ceramic spotless. It’s a strange business, but he appears to do quite well out of it, which is seems odd as toilets here are far from clean, though, I’m yet to see one that Pak Eddie has worked on.

The house has a delightfully mad woman, our ‘Pembantu’ (House maid), Ibu Som, who keeps the house spotless, rustling about. She’s a consistent whirlwind of non stop, indecipherable gossip. Ibu Som appears to know the entire neighbourhood and everything about them. She’s a great cook and runs a small ‘warung’ during the days, from the garage at the front of the house selling ‘pedang’ style food for breakfast and lunch. From the little I can understand from her strong accent and local dialect, she’s been living here for 25 years so far.

Every day I sleep-in until, what I’m sure the household considers a ridiculous hour, of 7:00am. They all awake sometime around 4am. Ibu to start cooking for the day while Pak starts work at 5, and Frater goes to 4am church daily, returning around 7:30 Often he catches up with me for breakfast, prior to heading to Uni or School. The whole town seems to come alive at that hour, of course the call to prayer, blaring from loudspeakers throughout the country helps a bit. Choosing a well placed kost is essential for those dependant on sleep.

My Breakfast, Lunch and dinner are all available to me from Ibu Som’s. Each meal time an array of food is laid out and I help myself, paying Rp2,500 per meal (around 35c). All meals are the same format, though the selection varies daily. Basically its rice 3 meals a day with sambal, boiled veges, and an assortment of tempeh, fish, egg or meat dishes. Really nice, simple food, a bit too much fried stuff for my tastes, but some great curries and a nice focus on veges and rice. It seems to suit me well, as apart from the odd water related tummy grumble, I feel healthy and content.

My food, accommodation and electricity adds up to about $2 a day here, to live in a standard much like that back home. Not knowing many people makes it pretty easy to stay home and concentrate on my homework, rather than spending my life in local coffee shops where a good coffee costs the same as it does back home i.e more than my daily living expenses here. I must say though, the fact that I can buy Illy café and Lindt chocolate within ½ a km of home has not gone unnoticed. It’s the other bits that really throw the budget. The government Telkom, charges a small fortune for international communication, so the mobile and internet bills add up quickly. It feels to many like some form of census, though it may be just intended as a tax on the rich. To top off that expense, I’ve done a lot of traveling, lately, Lombok, Australia, Bali, Jogja, Jakarta etc. It adds up quickly.

Life with a middle class family in Java is simple and sweet, the pembantu is so much more than a servant, as they say here she is the ‘stairs’ of the house. People here are generous, understanding, accepting and tolerant. I’d have to say, much more so than Australia. Religious and cultural diversity is a daily reality here, few people speak Indonesian as their mother tongue so people are incredibly tolerant of my bumbling ways. There’s a vast array of social rules that I seem to break daily, but as long as you speak softly and smile a lot, the Javanese will forgive most things, choosing rather to smile back and laugh at the funny ways of foreigners. Malang itself has few westerners, there’s probably under a thousand in an area of about 4 million, so I tend to stand out like dog’s balls. With so few native English speakers and 30 local Universities, I’m endless approached by people who would like to practice their English and commonly invited to join people for dinner etc. All in all I feel quite spoilt and content.