Indi and I fly out of Indonesia in about twelve hours and head to Malaysia. I’m very excited about this, and have been spending the last few hours thinking about my time here and what I’ve seen. Here are some of my preliminary observations:
1. Western Culture Creep. Some parts of Indonesia are very old-school Asian. Others are gigantic metropolis centers with millions of people. Throughout the country, there is a feeling of westernization. But it’s disjointed in most places. As an example: In Surabaya, there are four million people zooming about in new cars and motorbikes, en route to jobs and homes. Amidst these people are rickshaw drivers, people burning trash in the streets, and others squatting in the river. In the sudden grasp of the western civilization structure, some things have been lost in translation. Not everyone is on board and some things aren’t quite right.
2. Language Barrier. It’s very humbling/scary when you’re in a taxi and you don’t know how to tell the driver he just missed your street. Is he padding the meter? Is he truly lost? Or does he have other intentions? Most of the people I dealt with here were nice and friendly, but many of them didn’t speak but three words of English. This has been the first time I’ve felt paralyzed by inability to communicate. Indi has been a great help in this area, as she has picked up bahasa Indonesia very fast and is able to churn out at least rudimentary conversation. I just sit, smile, and wish my memory was better for vocabulary.
3. Food. Boy oh boy has cuisine been interesting. In a similar vein to the western culture explosion, there is a vast mixture of western-style restaurants, street vendors, and small Asian warungs that offer different choices of eating. The food has been an adventure for my limited range and I’ve tried to avoid eating the same meal twice. I’ve also realized just how debilitating a McDonald’s cheeseburger is when you don’t have one for a long while. There is also an abundance of glass-bottled carbonated beverages here. It’s a shame no one here has heard of Dr. Pepper, either.
4. Grime. Oklahoma is a pretty clean state. We don’t have an absolute glut of people. Surabaya and Jakarta were my first REAL introductions to the less-glamorous parts of the Big City and it was an eye opener. I’ve never seen so much pollution and poverty in my life. I didn’t go into the real downtrodden parts of the cities, either. I am floored that people are able to survive on so little and live in such conditions. I recognize that I am a relatively sheltered American boy and I bet I’ll see worse before it’s over. My one day in Jakarta was such an extreme display of the rich next door to the poor. Although the song ‘Land of Confusion’ by Genesis was written and performed long ago, it echoes in my mind with new and surprising accuracy.
Oh, Indi and I visited Obama’s school today! 🙂 We’re also staying at just about the nicest hotel I’ve ever been in; it rivals Disney resorts! And it’s only $57 a night. Score. Great way to wrap up my time in the 6th largest country in the world.
First priority when landing in Malaysia: see Harry Potter! (yeah, we’re total nerds. We saw Star Trek first thing when we landed in NZ, too.)