By Adelle Neary (Semester 22/Feb 2006)
The University of Adelaide
I have now been in this country for three and a half months. It occurred to me today that there are loads of crazy things that happen around me, some not so crazy but still pretty weird, whose impact have been dulled by the passing of time. With about five weeks left in Yogya before I move on to Jakarta, I have been reflecting once more on the many peculiar phenomena which are inherent features of daily life in Indonesia and in the life of foreign students generally.
For a start, there’s the fact that I have friends from many countries here including Japan, Germany, Korea, Turkey, New Zealand. The peculiar thing about our friendships however is that, excluding obviously the English speakers, we all speak to each other in Indonesian. Of course, that is probably rather an obvious thing to most of you, however picture this scenario: a bunch of Australians, Japanese, Koreans and a German go out for dinner and spend the whole evening speaking Indonesian. White people and foreigners generally already get stared at anyway by Indonesians without needing to draw further attention to ourselves by speaking their language in their absence! They seem to find that scenario rather hilarious, but in a nice way.
Another dominant lifestyle-affecting characteristic of this place is the weather. I wake up in the morning usually to a clear blue sky and it feels about 30 degrees by about 9am. However, more often than not, I get out of class in mid-afternoon and it is torrentially down-pouring which inevitably means – in a country with an average sewerage system, motorbikes as the dominant form of transport, and a generally, erm, flexible attitude to time – the only way to deal with such conditions is to either make friends with someone who has a car, or wait.
An example: on the way to the movies the other day, in a period of five minutes, a massive storm developed and purged itself with equally impressive speed. We were on motorbikes at the time and had no option but to park them in the middle of nowhere and huddle under the eaves of a translation shop and plough through the usual questions (Where are you from? Why are you here? etc, etc) with the owner. We waited for an hour and when we eventually decided to resume our journey, still ended up quite soaked. You have no choice but to wait. I am developing remarkable patience in this country.
Other circumstances that require patience…
The bus continues to provide me with great amusement. A new phenomena that I have observed is the proclivity of the driver to just randomly stop for a rest and drink a cup of tea or chat to his fellow bus-driving mates for as long as he sees fit. This seldom occurs when I am on the way to campus (thankfully, because I rarely allocate enough time for such unexpected occurrences in my morning schedule) but often happens on the way home when I am about 1km from the kos. I always have to toss up whether to just get off and walk or hope that his conversation is sufficiently boring that he drinks his tea quickly and gets moving!
It occurred to me the other day also that when we all go home to Australia we are quite likely to develop psychological paranoia about being ignored by the people around us, because we will be able to once more walk down the street and not have anyone care less about where we have come from (Dari mana?), where we are going (Mau ke mana?), are we studying in Yogya (Kuliah di sini?) and why we are walking alone (Kok sendirian?). It is absolutely mustahil, impossible, to go anywhere incognito in this place.
I went down to the bakery near my kos today, “Parsley”, to buy some bread and realized how that although I used to find it weird to see cheese and chocolate used in the same baked good or to see for example cheese as a topping on cake, I hadn’t even thought about it for two months as being anything other than normal. In Bandung, where Brownies are apparently a specialty, they make a cheese version (eww). The absolute over-sweetness of everything here would also be normal if it wasn’t for the fact that I am constantly reminded when I smile at myself in the mirror how bad my teeth will be when I get home. The default taste of hot drinks here (Milo, coffee, tea, green tea) is hyper-sweet. Out of control, cavity-inducing, stomach-churning sweet. Alas, being an adaptable creature and one who is not prone to being fussy, I have learnt to accept it. This is in lieu of other options other than the rather unpalatable “don’t have a drink” option.
Oh and by the way, I eat rice and sambal (chilli sauce) for breakfast. The girls in the kos think it’s hilarious. But they all do it too. Anyway, that’s a pot pourri of random tidbits.