Makassar: Or One of the Most Uncomfortable Meals of My Life
Living abroad is full of awkward and uncomfortable experiences, it’s part of what makes life memorable — at least when you get a bit of hindsight. Here’s the back story: To get to Tana Toraja (see previous posts) from Jakarta, you have to fly to Makassar. Makassar is the provincial capital of South Sulawesi and it’s a giant Indonesian port city and oddly has what has got to be one of the nicest airports in all of Indonesia. On our first stop there, Chloe and I arrived late and left early the next morning for Toraja. On the way back, we arrived early and had a day to see the “sights” of Makassar. The night bus from Tana Toraja to Makassar was eight hours worth of chilling A/C along curving roads. I didn’t sleep much. We were both sleep-deprived and somewhat moody — a perfect combination.
We decided to visit Fort Rotterdam, an old fort that the Dutch used during their colonial power days. Within 5 minutes of leaving our hotel, we saw a group of 50 students in the distance. As soon as they spotted us, they began running in our direction, screaming and laughing. Usually, I have no issue chatting with Indonesian students. A popular activity teachers assign in Indonesia is for students to go to tourist spots and interview foreigners to practice their English. They ask the typical: Where are you from? Why are you here? What do you think of my country? They also always want a photo with you, perhaps to show their teacher they did not make up the answers. The group that surrounded Chloe and I wasn’t interested in practicing English and just wanted some quick photos. I was exhausted and this felt like an invasion of my space and my time. We walked briskly to the fort to avoid other groups.
Fort Rotterdam is nicely restored thanks to a partnership with the Netherlands. We walked the fort in about 10 minutes. There were two museums, but we peaked inside and they looked poorly labeled and curated so we decided to avoid the additional fee. At this point, we decided to drink some coconut juice at a roadside stall across the street. At the stall a man decided to sit next to us and then he started complaining about Makassar, how he missed home and how he wanted to be our friend. We’d both had it, so we excused ourselves and left.
Our flight was leaving around 8, so we decided to have an early dinner. The problem? It was Ramadan, so almost every restaurant was shuttered until the the fast is broken around 6 p.m. On our previous night in Makassar we had had a delicious seafood dinner at Lae Lae (Jalan Datu Musseng 8), so we headed there around 5 p.m. Lae Lae is a giant seafood restaurant that serves fresh fish grilled to perfection. As you walk into the restaurant you walk by coolers and point and pick your fish for grilling.
Lae Lae was open, and since we were both hungry and didn’t want to take our chances with airport offerings, we ordered. As we sat down at the long banquet tables in the restaurant, the seats around us began to fill up with families.
Since Lae Lae was serving food, we decided to eat, especially since we noticed that other families were ordering food as well. But as soon as we started eating, it felt like a couple hundred heads turned and all eyes were focused on us. As food arrived at the tables for other customers, no one began eating, instead they stared at the food and the clock waiting for break fast. We were also the only foreigners in a restaurant with seating capacity for around 200 people.
Then a couple sat down directly across from us. I kept eating because I was hungry and because I do not observe Ramadan, but I felt so uncomfortable. The man in the couple began staring us down. Was I offending people? I really did not mean to offend anyone. We would have avoided ordering if we thought other people wouldn’t be eating. Chloe and I both slowed our eating and looked uncomfortably at each other. I kept turning over questions in my mind: How do Christians and other religious minorities feel during Ramadan in Indonesia? Were people angry at us? Chloe summed her her feelings about this too, click here (post is titled ‘Home’).
Before we knew it, the fast was broken and everyone around us was eating, but I no longer felt hungry.
Whenever you live abroad, even if you’ve been there for some time, speak the language, you experience those moments when you feel completely alien. For better or for worse, these moments remind you that you always have more to learn.
On our way out of the restaurant we passed a table stacked high with delicious mangoes. The smell was intoxicating and we watched as the city came alive with food vendors clogging sidewalks.