Or A Post About Mundane Things I Find Interesting
Indonesian traffic is a cultural experience in itself. Lanes are usually marked on the roads, but they’re more of a loose suggestion than a hard and fast rule. Sometimes there will be discernable lanes of traffic; other times cars will drive down the middle of the road for no particular reason. In most of Jogja, motorbikes seem to outnumber cars 5-to-1.
They weave in and out of other traffic and usually make better time than the cars. Most carry one or two passengers but some carry four or five, with children wedged between adults or sitting in front of the driver. Other common forms of transportation include pedicabs (which are slowly disappearing in Indonesia in part due to government efforts – Jogja is one of the last holdouts), horse drawn carriages, and bicycles.
We’ve had a car for the last few days (because we went to the East Java village of Sekar Alas for the weekend), but at the beginning we walked everywhere. Walking in Jogja is also a different experience because sidewalks exist in some places but can’t be counted upon. Uncovered manholes and broken cement are everywhere make open-mouthed tourist gawking perilous. Whoever walks in the front of our group is in charge of yelling “hati-hati!” to warn the others of sudden drops. Termana literally pushed us further to the side of the road a few times in the first few days – pedestrians just have to be a lot more alert than we’re used to.
Because crosswalks are rare and traffic on most roads is constant, Termana also had to teach us the Indonesian Theory of Road Crossing. Basically you slowly step out into the road until you’re far enough out that traffic can no longer swerve around you and is forced to at least slow down. If you try to cross too quickly the traffic won’t have time to react. If you wait for a gap in the traffic – as a group of us did early on when we ventured out alone to buy groceries – you will likely be on the side of the road for hours. Right-of-way rules for driving are similar. Many intersections on busy roads don’t have stoplights, so cars inch into oncoming traffic until other drivers have no choice but to slow. In some places there are men who will (for a tip) wave, whistle, and even stand in front of traffic to assist you pull out of a parking space, merge, or make a U-turn.
Many Muslim women in the East and Central Java towns we drove through this weekend wear long skirts and sit “side saddle” as motorbike passengers. In Jogja, however, it’s not uncommon to see women wearing headscarves (I think they’re called jilbab) and driving motorbikes in skinny jeans and heels. This sight struck me as bizarre at first, I think because my conception of conservative Muslim women was based on the Arab women of American media focus. Maybe I’m just ignorant, but until I started doing basic research about Indonesia as part of applying for the IRP, I wasn’t aware of Islam’s predominance in Indonesia and on Java in particular. In fact, Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population. The jilbab – as I learned from a magazine article today – is actually a relatively new phenomenon in Indonesia, its popularity rising in tandem with the development of the Internet, which connected more and more Indonesians with Arab Muslims. However, Indonesian Muslims seem to have put their own twist on ideas imported from the Middle East, allowing for beautiful batik coverings or for the pairing of headscarves with skinny jeans.
Our gurus at the Universitas Sanata Dharma are also young and fashionable – but mostly Christian, because the university is Jesuit. Kelas is both fun and difficult. Indonesian is a very beautiful and interesting language. I hope we learn more about its origins in class in Bali, but I remember reading that Indonesia has more than 200 languages and that the Dutch colonial officials basically chose the language that was to become Indonesian and sculpted it to be an appropriate language of politics and business. In many ways, it’s much simpler than other major languages. Take the sentence “Kemarin saya bangun jam tujuh,” (I woke up at 7 o’clock yesterday), for example:
- Saya in this context means I, but it can also mean me (teman-teman panggil saya Mads = my friends call me Mads) or my (buku saya = my book). There is also a less formal form (aku) to remember, but I can’t help but compare it to French, in which the same functions are served by a half-dozen words differing by quantity, gender, and whether they start with a vowel.
- There is no verb conjugation. If you wanted to say that he wakes up at 7 o’clock, you would say dia bangun. They wake up would be mereka bangun. And so on.
- Numbers make a lot of sense. All you have to do is memorize 1-11 and then words designating teens (belas), tens (puluh), hundreds (ratus), and so on. Thus 2 is dua, 12 is dua belas, 21 is dua puluh satu, 212 is dua ratus dua belas, etc. Add the prefix ke- to any number and you know how to write ordinal numbers. It must be incredibly frustrating for Indonesians to have to learn two, twelve, and twenty-one, and then second, twelfth, and twenty-first. Or French, where 94 literally translates to “four-twenty-fourteen.” Many words also work in the same, logical way. For example, if you know the words selamat (safe or happy), makan (meal), and pagi (morning), you can form the phrases makan pagi (breakfast), selamat pagi (good morning), and selamat makan (bon appetite).
- Tenses are usually expressed in context. If you say yesterday, the audience knows to assume you’re talking about the past – specifically, yesterday. There’s no need to fiddle with the verb or add an auxiliary verb. It makes so much sense.
We’ve had class for six days now and I feel like I’ve learned the equivalent of the first year of taking French. I’ve been told that the patterns of the language get more complicated as you advance (lots of prefixes and suffixes, for example), but for now it’s nice to be able to express simple ideas so quickly.
Some of the most useful words we’ve learned have to do with food and buying. While in the first few days we ate at nice sit-down restaurants – to give our stomachs an easy adjustment – now we mostly buy meals from food stalls. Street food here is a more of a meal option than in the States. The average warung offers several entrée options that come on real plates and with fresh juice, tea, or ginger drink. Some stalls offer picnic tables or stools, others give you a mat to sit on, and others provide only the curb. Most street meals cost 10,000-20,000 rupiah (and $1 = IDR 8,500 – do the math). One night we ate at a beautiful Javanese restaurant that offered live Javanese music. An entrée, a fresh guava juice, and a homemade raspberry, mango and passion fruit ice cream still cost me less than $10.
Pictured here is a meal we had in Sekar Alas (I think Jen will write about our trip this weekend). It’s a pretty typical
Indonesian meal because it includes rice, tempe, chicken, some sort of soup, and several options to make everything spicier. The things wrapped in banana leaves on the left are some sort of dessert made from banana and coconut milk – delicious.
Well that’s all I have for now. Don’t quote me on any of those specific details (especially about grammar) because I’m still learning. Jen says she’s got a post in the works, so expect another soon.