Aku Rindu Indonesia

When we fall in love with a place but must leave it behind, we miss the most trifling things about it. After living in Indonesia 2 months, here’s my farewell to Indonesia and why I believe it may be the best country I’ve visited so far.

* Aku Rindu Indonesia= I long for/miss Indonesia

I’m waiting to board my Bangkok-bound flight for a one week mini-vacation before my South Africa study abroad, and at this moment I’m feeling sentimental. Yuck! Here I am, almost teary eyed, reflecting on how unconditionally loving my Indonesian friends have been, how my host ibus (Indonesian for “mothers”) always bantered “tambah” (“Have some more!”) during our meals, and how my language teachers’ never lost their patience when my brain could not keep up with their steady teaching rhythm. Since I’m a fan of lists, I’ve condensed my thoughts to a “Top 10 Things I Will (or Will Not) Miss About Indonesia”:

  1. Buy (almost) anything I want

    I took Ibu Katarina (right) and Ibu Rina (left) out to a special restaurant where we took family photos! As you can see, we are wearing batik, which is Indonesian traditional clothing.

If you’re a college student like me, budgeting life is a daily routine. However, after arriving in Indonesia, my measly wallet worked wonders! Grab (Indonesian Uber) rides are anywhere from cents to a few dollars, and you can certainly find quality warung (Indonesian outdoor restaurants) food for less than that. I also took my 2 ibus and a friend to a private candlelit hut at a riverside restaurant where we feasted for a mere $25.

  1. Knee pillows

    On the middle of each of these beds is a guling, a long and narrow pillow.

I can’t sleep without a knee pillow! Indonesians understand that too because they place special cylindrical pillows on the middle of their beds where their knees go! This pillow, called guling, originated from when the Dutch colonized Indonesia. Its purpose was to act as a barrier for men and women who slept on the same bed but had not yet married!

  1. “Hati-hati”

From studying in an intensive Indonesian language program, I’ve learned lots of words and phrases that can’t be translated literally. Like Hati-hati. While it simply means “be careful,” I’ve never met English speakers—besides overprotective parents—who use it the way Indonesians do. Whenever I go to class, home, or anywhere, my friends and host family say “hati-hati,” often while holding my hand affectionately. It’s yet another way Indonesians show they care.

  1. Squat toilets

Although I’ve sampled squat toilets in India, I was never a regular user until Indonesia.  What can I say, it’s been a culturally immersive experience! First, realizing that used toilet paper belongs in the waste basket. Second, learning from trial and error to perform hind end cleaning toilet-paper-free. And third, revising bucketing strategies for flushing if the bodily waste is particularly cumbersome.

  1. Being special

While it’s sometimes flattering to receive over-the-top treatment and selfie requests, it can also be annoying! A couple weeks ago, a student at my Indonesian university approached me in hopes of making me his foreigner girlfriend, which I confidently refused! However, the footage of our conversation was captured by another student and is featured on a YouTube Channel called Jomblo (single person searching for a partner) TV. On a similar note, I’m also given a special name whenever I go out walking: “Hey, mister! Mister!” Many Indonesians don’t understand that “mister” is the English title for males, not all white people!

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Evidence that my tutor Mbak Mei is an incredibly thoughtful human being: she made a calendar to record everything she did with me the last 60 days!
  1. No one to have a crush on

    Besides my tutors, Mas Gun has been my BFFFF in Indonesia. Not only have I taught him English, but he’s also taught me so much about music from his genius cello playing.

Since one of my required criteria for men is that he is at least my height, I’ve got slim pickings in Indonesia. This is the only country where I somewhat wish I was short!

  1. Hijabs that are not stereotyped

Because I haven’t spent much time in a Muslim majority country before, I began my Indonesian experience with many stereotypes about what Muslims are like.  From my language program’s hijab-clad leader dancing to Anaconda to the people I met whose families crossed religious boundaries, I grew to respect not only Islam but also how other religions worked together despite tremendous differences.

  1. Patriotism

I’m not Indonesian but I’m patriotic for Indonesia! Why? Because Indonesians actually care about their country! Their Independence Day’s treated almost like an American Christmas, but instead of songs being played from late November to the end of December, they’re only played the week of August 17. Flags are hung up everywhere, everyone gets the day off work, and a number of special ceremonies commence. No jokes about the president, no side conversations that begin with “Big bad China…”

  1. Unparalleled beauty

    Mount Bromo is the most popular destination in the Malang area and probably one of the only local places where tourists can get away with being understood in English.

Indonesia’s jaw-dropping gorgeous! Just last week I went horse riding and climbing up Mount Bromo, an active volcano about 2 hours from Malang. As I gazed at the mountain skyline and turned my attention downward to the volcano’s crater, I was awestruck by the raw beauty of the natural surroundings. To think I only got a little sampling of Indonesia from one of its 18,000 islands!

  1. Genetically distinct cats

During my research presentation this week, I shared my findings from my Indonesian and American student interviews as well as my survey of Malang’s cats’ tails. Here’s a few interesting tidbits:

  • Indonesian cats are usually short-tailed-in fact, 70% of cats from my cat survey are short-tailed
  • Americans are more willing to adopt a short-tailed cat than Indonesians- 80% of Americans would be okay with owning one, compared to only 30% of Indonesians
    • Reasons for not owning a short-tailed cat- not as playful; long-tailed cat is ideal
    • Reasons to own a short-tailed cat- cats’ tail does not matter (1 respondent also said the cat would be cleaner after defecating)
My final presentation for my language immersion program involved a 12-minute PowerPoint about my research. Since I was going to talk about short-tailed cats, I decided to become a cat for the presentation! Here I am with Mbak Mei (left) and Mbak Vita (center) after celebrating being finished!

As I conclude the Indonesian section of Fran’s Lands, I write as one who is passionately in love. I took a leap of faith choosing to study the Indonesian language, yet I have not only progressed in the the language but also in the way I see myself as a friend, family member, and individual. Though I’m headed to Thailand next, my rich Indonesian adventures compel me to return and live out my life goal to make a difference in a new, meaningful way.



Here’s a sampling of my adventures in Indonesia these last 3 weeks…

For the beauty of Bromo…

Due to the nature of roads, Mount Bromo excursions are reserved for Jeeps only.
Here I am ascending Bromo’s peak on my noble steed.

For the love of kids…

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At the Catholic high school where Ibu Rina works, I was interviewed by the journalism class for the school’s magazine.
To thank me for visiting the school’s journalism class, one of the students drew a portrait of me. Thank you, Alex!
Can you see me? I’m wearing the lavender hijab! I’m with a group of students at a pesantren, which is a private school for Muslims.
I won the election to become the menteri pendidikan (minister of education) in my Indonesian class’ mock election! I had to make a poster, give a speech, and do Q and A.

For the love of friendship…

I put my Indonesian skills to use by speaking with Indonesia’s regional public radio station about my experience learning Bahasa Indonesia. Definitely a program highlight!
Bonding with Mbak Mei (left) and Mbak Vita (center) by picking oranges.
Here I am with my host mom Ibu Rina on Indonesia’s Independence Day. At the high school where she works, I had to give a speech to the 1,200 students!
This is not a great picture, but it’s of me (pictured in black and gold traditional clothing at center) and my classmates playing the gamelan for my Indonesian program’s closing ceremony.
This t-shirt is a special parting gift I received from Pak Gatot, Ibu Rina’s BFF, who’s taken me out to dinner a few times. The red and white flag is for Indonesia.

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