Until We Meet Again, Indonesia: Dramatic Exit and Lists
This morning I am sitting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia enjoying some roti canai for breakfast. Two nights ago I stood on a beach in Flores, Indonesia and watched an incredible sunset. That morning I had watched the sun rise on a boat on the way out to Komodo Island. As I stood alone on the beach watching the sun go down, the hotel nearby started playing some songs. Appropriately or coincidentally, they played “Home” by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros followed by “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. I associate both of these songs with my original home, the United States.
Standing on the beach, I felt happy and sad at the same time. I have called Indonesia home for over a year now and everyday here has been an adventure. The past 14 months have been exhilarating, exciting, confusing, frustrating, hot (it’s the tropics), cold (so much A/C in the tropics), funny, sad, fascinating and fun. I’ve seen the most sunrises and sunsets in my life. I’ve eaten more rice than I thought was humanly possible (will need to cut back soon). And most importantly, I met amazing people from all around the world and all around Indonesia, from Iceland to Australia, from Sulawesi to Flores.
But before I could finally leave Indonesia, I had the most dramatic 48 hours I could imagine. Indonesian immigration is not winning any awards for service or transparency. My former employer sent an agent to immigration to go about canceling my work visa. To this day I don’t know what really happened. I was told a scanner wasn’t working and so my passport couldn’t be scanned and sent to airport immigration. I don’t know if a bigger bribe was needed or if something else went awry. Needless to say I missed a flight and was afraid I would miss my whole trip to Flores before finally leaving the country. But once one of my journalist colleagues heard about the situation, she decided to pull out her contact book. Within 30 minutes the national spokesman for immigration had made some calls on my behalf and everything had been sorted out. So yes, a national official had to get involved so I could leave the country. You really can’t make these things up.
Now the time has come for the next chapter. I’m heading home to California in mid-September (after some more travels) to study for the GREs and apply to graduate school and to be home for more than 2 weeks for the first time in five years. I’m so excited to spend time with my parents and catch up on a lot of blogging and writing. But enough of all these emotions. The best way to summarize anything after a year is with lists! So read on for my likes, dislikes and other opinions all neatly numbered.
Things I Dislike About Indonesia:
1. Destruction of the environment. Whether it’s the smell of burning trash (oh, smell that plastic in Jakarta) or cars running while their owners are in shopping malls, everyday I was bothered with how the environment, in what I think is one of the most beautiful countries on Earth, is being treated. Palm oil plantations are destroying vast swathes of forest in Indonesia and on a more basic level trash is every. Another blogger summed up my thoughts on this here. I really hope that there will be a change soon in Indonesia.
2. Corruption: Just see the above story. One of my last conversations in Jakarta was with a friend who works for the government and is working on writing a lot of anti-corruption laws. Corruption is at every level, from getting your drivers license to permits for anything and everything. My friend explained to me that this isn’t something new, it just wasn’t called corruption under Suharto, instead it was called cigarette money. Hopefully things will change over the coming years for the better.
3. Traffic. This applies mainly to Jakarta but also to any area in Indonesia with construction. I’ve never seen traffic as bad as Jakarta anywhere else in the world. The upside? I’ve read a lot of things on my phone this year.
4. The class system. I’ve written about this before. It really bothers me how some blue collar workers are treated here. Everyone is trying to earn a living, I just wish that domestic workers here were given days off and more rights.
5. Cigarette ads everywhere. Even in the middle of nowhere Sumatra I saw billboards for cigarettes. I recently had a conversation with a man who told me that his mother asked him to start smoking at 18 because no one in his family did and she wanted him to appear more macho. He now smokes a pack a day. I’ve seen very young children smoking here and I wish there was more awareness about the health consequences.
6. Airport tax. Whenever you leave the country you pay Rp 150,000 ($15.75) and when you travel domestically you also pay an airport tax up to $4. I wouldn’t mind paying this if the airports in Indonesia were in top-notch shape. But they aren’t. I don’t know where the money goes, but I hope someone is enjoying the few hundred USD I spent this year.
7. Wet tiles. In a country with up to 6 months of rainy season in a year, I don’t understand why tiles are used everywhere. I’ve had some very slippery moments. Just look at these clouds:
8. Jakarta taxi drivers who have no clue where they are going.
9. People without helmets. Please, please wear helmets if you get on a motorbike:
10. Sickness. Living in a new part of the world means new germs. I never imagined how many times I would get sick this year. I hope no one ever has to experience food poisoning Jakarta-style. It is one of the worst feelings your body can go through.
11. Lack of quiet. Jakarta is a loud place with the traffic and loudspeakers on mosques. There is also no idea of sound pollution, so people are more than happy to blast music instead of putting in headphones. When it gets bad, escape to a secluded beach!
Things I Love About Indonesia:
1. Indonesians. The broadest category possible, but it’s true: the people here are wonderful. The smiles, laughter, friendliness, I was a bit worried a large foreign city like Jakarta would be alienating, but it was easy to make friends. People are welcoming and I’ve had wonderful experiences with complete strangers. I now, however, fear I am going to return to the States and immediately want to Facebook friend people and know all about their families.
2. The sound of Bahasa Indonesia: Ayo, Hati-hati, Ohhh gitu, Yeee-ah! I really will miss having the basic conversations I could have with people. The language sounds friendly and melodic to me.
3. Volcanoes and nature. Indonesia is one of the most naturally beautiful places on Earth. I’ve seen some of the most spectacular sights this past year from Mount Bromo to Kelimutu, it really doesn’t get much better than this.
4. Fruit Juice and Teh Botol. I will miss tropical fruit so much. I’ve had the most amazing juices this year from watermelon to a mix of passion fruit and tamarillo. And then there is teh botol, a sweet bottled tea that is delicious when cold. Teh botol is also accidentally sustainable with its glass bottles being refilled.
5. Having my salary come in the millions. Because that’s not going to happen in America.
6. Ojeks. Motorcycle taxis get you where you need to go fast. Plus I love the running commentary you get with some drivers.
7. Offers of marriage and proclamations of love. I’ve never had so many complete strangers tell me I’m beautiful and that they love me. It has been nice.
8. Monkeys in the wild. Just look at them:
9. Batik. I love that people wear traditional clothing. Batik is beautiful and it keeps culture alive.
10. Affordable spa treatments. If you are ever in Indonesia, get a massage and a cream bath. You won’t regret it!
11. Dangdut. It’s hard to describe this style of music, but I love it. Here’s a more modern take by Ayu Ting Ting. It really gets stuck in your head.
12. Food. From Indomie to 24/7 availability of nasi goreng, fried rice, you won’t go hungry. People are always asking if you have eaten. I’ll especially miss rendang, beef stewed in coconut milk.
13. The proximity of beaches. When you live in the world’s largest archipelago country, take full advantage of the beach.
What I’ve Learned Over the Past 14 Months:
1. You can do anything with a cigarette in your hand and flip flops on your feet.
2. There is never an inappropriate time to use a cellphone in Indonesia.
3. You can convey almost anything with hand gestures.
4. Every religion loves a dirty joke.
5. Everyone loves The Beatles and Bob Marley.
6. I’ve learned to trust in different ways. From a 16-year-old steering a boat I was on to getting on a motorbike with a complete stranger, you take chances everyday. But, you know that this person probably does this all the time and can do it way better than you.
7. How very fortunate I am. I took getting an education for granted back in the US. With high school fees here, I’ve realized how lucky we are to have free public education in the US.
8. How to run a website and social media. I picked up a lot of skills this year that I probably wouldn’t have straight out of school in the US.
I’ve had an amazing last 6 weeks. I unplugged for the most part so I could take it all in. So lots of catch up blogging in the coming weeks. But before then time in Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Finland (I know, one of these things is not like the other). Stay tuned and thanks for reading.