Travelling to Indonesia is the most out-there thing I’ve done in my entire life, and that’s why I loved doing it. The country is a brilliantly different place with a fascinating cultural identity. Because of this, however, some parts of the Australian experience that you end up missing a whole bunch when you can’t find or experience them in Indonesia.
Of course, this isn’t at all a criticism of the country – it just goes to show how attached we become to certain objects and traditions (nothing like a foreign country to shake things up!). Plus, the list is based on my personal experiences and observations, so you’re welcome to disagree.
1) Family and friends. Alright, let’s get the frequently-quoted cliché out of the way first. However, it’s very true – family and friends often aren’t there with you while in-country. And, despite the extremely accommodating nature of Indonesian families, sometimes you just can’t beat the folk back home.
2) English language reading material. I was told before my first study trip to Indonesia that I might have a hard time finding books or magazines written in English – and they were right. I’m not sure I found anything not in Indonesian that wasn’t brought from home by other Australians. Like I said at the beginning, I end up missing the simple things – this included.
3) Alone time. Indonesians love to do stuff together: eat, talk, study, anything. Sometimes you can’t get away from it all. For instance, five Indonesian friends and I once went on a weekend trip away to the islands off the east coast of Lombok. All six of us ended up sleeping in a single room – four on the bed, two on the floor. The others were happy to snuggle up under the doona (that’s right – doona), but to be honest I was wanting to get somewhere cool and quiet.
4) A safe on-road experience. Oh, how Indonesian traffic fascinates me. Bewildering in more than one sense of the word, the plentiful vehicles zooming past makes it dangerous to simply cross the road. It’s a stark change from the linearity and regulation of Australian roads. (I got excited when I saw a pedestrian crossing marked on the road in Yogyakarta – yes, I speak the truth, an actual pedestrian crossing).
5) The use of your left hand. This one can be challenging as you have to change your habits from day one. Whether it’s eating a meal to handing a pen to a fellow student in class, careful with the (dreaded?) left hand. What’s more, the return home is even peculiar – actually being able to use two hands? Unthinkable!
6) Unsweetened bread. It took me a while to realise, but in Lombok, finding bread like you get in Australia is extremely difficult. I’d go to the nearby Indomaret and find racks of Sari Roti and half-loaves of sliced bread. These taste great, but can be a little too sweet when you’re hunting for a sandwich or some vegemite on toast (both of which would fit well on this list, actually).
7) Ability to blend in. Try as you might, the simple act of walking down the street makes you stand out. This is because of the obvious reasons: ethnicity, height, language (oh, and the shape of your nose). The local community will quickly take you in as one of their own, sure, but you’ll attract renewed attention when you head somewhere new.
8) Australia/Australians. Maybe I’m here cheating here, but for all our faults, you can’t beat good ol’ Oz. There is something inherently inviting about the Australian experience – maybe it’s the accent, the easy-going nature everyone speaks of, the weather, or firing up the barbeque with friends for Australia Day. Whatever it is, you’re exposed to it from birth and it doesn’t let up your entire life.
Things like these are what we long for when out of the country, but often take for granted back home. They’re small things on their own, but on the whole add up. We better make use of them while they’re at our fingertips and not a few thousand kilometres away, don’t you think?