Thursday, January 03, 2019

Things I've Learned about Indonesia

Another post-vacation list has been brewing between my ears and I'm excited to organize some of my observations. Whether you are new to my blog or an oldie, I hope you enjoy this post. ;)

Indonesia - Fast Facts:
* There are over 17,000 islands in Indonesia
* 90% of the country is Muslim; 90% of Bali is Hindu
There are two types of Muslim groups marked by either the blue or green colouring on Mosques
Money is counted in Rupiah
There are over 750 languages across the country with Bahasa Indonesian being the main language (Locals also speak maybe 1-3 other languages depending on where they live)
* Neighbourhoods aren't "developed" like North America. People buy land and then build their own homes with contractors which makes neighbourhoods more unique
Many people have caged birds in their yard as it is a sign of wealth (goal: most beautiful song = bragging rights)
* The food is delicious

Waiting in Traffic.
1. Transportation
First, Indonesians, like in Malaysia and Singapore, drive on the left side of the road. Second, motorcycles are life. I can't say that I saw many buses--aside from a few intercity buses that is. The main transportation around the city is by scooter/motorcycle or motorcycle taxi. Unless you have a lot of luggage, avoid using a car. Traffic can get really congested and the benefit to motor-taxis is that they know how to zip between and move with the flow of traffic. It is very easy to use online apps like Grab, Uber or the Indonesian GoJek to get from A to B, to send something to someone else, or to order pick up and delivery. I opted to use GoJek when I had to arrange my own rides because it told you how much the price would be if you paid in cash or through app (with a discount) when you ordered the ride. As a foreigner, you will get cheated at some point, but it doesn't have to be with GoJek! (Side note: in really tourist-heavy parts of Bali, they discouraged online transit apps because they wanted to promote the use of local providers).

2. Smoking Culture
Smoking is ingrained into the culture, especially for the men. I saw young children passing around a joint of some sort at different points of my trip. At times, they looked no older than 6 or 7. The government has put out initiatives against smoking, but they haven't really made an impact. One of my new friends told because smoking is part of family traditions. People aren't always smoking tobacco; secret family recipes are passed down from father to son through generations and it's hard to stop that sort of family tradition. That being said, she also mentioned how many of her friends, when forced to pick between a pack of cigarettes and eating a meal, would pick the cigarettes.

3. (Lack of) Fitness Culture...
Potentially because of 1 & 2..? I went on a tour of Mt. Bromo on East Java with mostly Indonesians. It was about a 2k walk from the parking area to the base and then up a steep section of stairs. It was across sand/volcanic ash, so not the best for breathing, but I felt like the majority of people hardcore struggled. I wondered how much exercise they normally get day to day. Locals also gave me weird looks when I said I wanted to walk places. I knew it was hot out, but it wasn't too hot for a stroll.
From the top of Mt Bromo looking back the way we've come. The "parking lot" is in the distance.
4. Timelines & School
When I was staying in Malang on East Java, I learned that the prayer bells ring at the Mosques at 4:30 in the morning. My new friend Ekky told me that for many families (and especially moms), this is when they start their day. This conversation revealed the difference in school days. Schools start around 6:30-6:45 every day. In high school, classes then end at 2 in the afternoon. (So at least they aren't in school for longer!). She went on to explain how Indonesians have a different view of time. For instance 12pm-2pm is afternoon, 3pm-5pm is evening, and after 6pm it's night. So close to the equator, the sun sets around 6pm and it makes sense, but I don't know if I'd want to be at work so early every day! It would take some getting used to.

Nasi Campur at a Warung restaurant in Kuta, Bali
5. Food
Can I leave it at that?
Indonesian cuisine uses a lot of peanuts (not in all dishes, but if you are allergic, keep that in mind). Like many Asian countries I've visited, rice is a huge staple. And why not when the country grows rice locally? Other dishes (spiced vegetables, meat, eggs, etc...) are available as sides. In many restaurants, it is sort of set up like a buffet line but you only pay for what you eat. This makes it easier if you are vegetarian or if you aren't super hungry. These style of restaurants had a sink readily available because traditionally you eat with your hands.

My time in Bali made me realize that "tourist" Bali also offers a lot of "tourist" foods, too, like the instagram popular smoothie bowls. Yeah it's easy to get a lot of fruit in this country, but if you are looking to experience Indonesian culture and foods, make sure you also check out local restaurants! The best ones are delicious and very affordable.

Setting up the tent on the street.
The large object on the left is the speaker.
6. Wedding Culture
Another fun fact I learned while in Malang is that December-January is "wedding season." Specifics for wedding attire and structure vary across the country depending on region, so I can only speak to what I saw on East Java, because yes, I crashed a wedding. And then I was invited to another (although sadly I wasn't on East Java anymore and couldn't attend! ㅠㅠ).

Weddings are held at the home of the richer of the two getting married. A giant tent-like structure is built out front a couple days before and a giant speaker is procured. From then on, the family blasts the neighbourhood with music at all hours of the day. Since my friends house was right across the street, I can attest that it was deafening. As I explored the neighbourhood, I passed a couple of other tents set up, too. Not all of them were at the music stage yet, but some were letting the whole world know that the wedding was coming.
Inside the tent a day later.
Just a couple hours until the wedding!
Standing awkwardly with the bride and groom. Her dress was absolutely stunning.
I was leaving to catch a bus shortly after peeking in on their ceremony (and somehow also sharing the food!). I was not expecting a black and gold wedding dress. In case you can't see the picture, she looked like royalty with a golden bouquet, crown and veil. Her dress was a black velvet waterfall that cascaded down the stairs of the makeshift stage. It looked like a beautiful ceremony and I was honoured to be there for a small part.

All in all, I feel I could add more to this list, but I'll cap it here for now (I originally started with 10 but wanted to keep it shorter!). I have a couple of post-journal entries that I want to share, and I'll weave in the other observations that way, mayhap.

Stay tuned.

Love and Hugs

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