I equate moving half-way around to world to wearing a pair of shoes that are too small. It just doesn’t feel quite right. I can adjust my daily activities and squeeze my feet into them, but I’ll never be completely comfortable. Yet that doesn’t mean I don’t like the shoes. They might be super cute or flashy. They might match my favorite outfit. They can still take me places. They’re still mine.
As I enter my third month in Bandar Lampung, I see more and more differences from my country’s culture and that of Indonesia. There’s an underlying current of contrast here. Some differences I love, some I don’t. Some things are just different.
What I love:
- Music is everywhere. Students sing the national anthem, city anthem, and school anthem regularly. Children run down my neighborhood street with dusty bare feet clutching battered guitars. Live bands entertain guests at restaurants, malls, and hotels.
- Everyone is an entrepreneur. From the owner of the rickety meatball stand to the old grandma who walks my neighborhood streets yelling “Tofu! Tofu!” everyone is an entrepreneur. Pick-up trucks double as fruit stalls. Old carts become restaurants-on-wheels.
- Food is cheap and widely available. My breakfast costs me $0.70. My dinners range from $2-5, maybe $10 if I’m at a fancy place.
- The cafes are sweet. Chill vibes. Fancy lattes. Free wifi. Love, love, and more love.
- I can buy fresh fruit at every street corner. Bananas. Durian. More bananas. Watermelon. Bananas again. Mangos. Bananas galore. Papaya. Oh, did I mention bananas?
- There are no traffic rules. It may be terrifying sometimes, but it’s actually quite freeing once you get the hang of it.
- My motorcycle. She’s literally my pride and joy in Bandar Lampung. I’m currently take name suggestions!
- The scenery is stunning. Crystal-clear beaches and towering mountains. What’s not to love?
- The art is beautiful. My favorite is the traditional fabric, batik.
- Every building is a different color. Neon green. Baby blue. Hot pink. Daring orange. Nothing is plain here.
- People are generous. Good morning! Do you want a steamed banana? Oh! You don’t have a purse, take my purse! You look hot! Here’s some water.
- Community is super important. If a coworker or student has a family member pass away, the school collects money and gives it to the family. If you know someone in the hospital, you must go visit. There’s no such thing as crashing a wedding because everyone is invited.
- I’m not (too much) of an instant celebrity. Unlike other places I’ve traveled, I’m not excessively gawked at because I’m a foreigner. Maybe it’s because I travel alone. Maybe it’s because I look semi-Asian (some people think I’m Indonesian). Maybe it’s because people in Bandar Lampung just don’t care as much as people in China or Malawi. But, there are occasional cat calls and stares. People still shout at me while I’m driving, “Bule naik motor!” (a foreigner is driving a motorcycle!). Once in a while, a stranger asks to take a picture with me
What I’ve Yet to Love:
- Students stay in the same classroom all day. The teachers move. That means I carry all my supplies with me. And the students don’t interact with anyone outside of their class.
- Students are divided into science and social tracks. This is partially based on preference, partially on test scores. There’s an assumption that science students are smarter. The social students are more likely to be brushed aside.
- Students are pressured to be the best at every subject. It’s not okay if you’re good at biology but bad at math. If you’re not #1 in everything, you’re a failure.
- Cheating is expected. Knowledge belongs to the community.
- “Tomorrow” could mean tomorrow, next month, or just sometime in the future.
- “Yesterday” could be yesterday, last month, or just sometime in the past.
- “Yes” could mean yes. It could mean no. And “no” could mean no. It could mean yes.
- Commenting on people’s appearance is not rude. Calling someone fat is a compliment. Asking if my freckles are a disease is totally fine. Telling me I look “sick” because I’m not wearing make-up is to be expected. And describing people based on their skin color is normal.
- There are no washing machines or laundry mats. Instead, I do half my laundry by hand and bring the other half to the drycleaners.
- THE HEAT! I live on the equator. Need I say more?
- The bugs are HUGE.
- It rains A LOT.
- If you haven’t eaten rice, you haven’t eaten yet. Sometimes I just don’t want rice.
- Everything is fried. Fried rice. Fried noodles. Fried tofu. Fried vegetables. Fried bananas. Fried chicken. Sometimes, I can feel the oil seeping out of my pores.
- People smoke. A LOT.
- Littering is a huge issue. The street is basically a trash can.
Everything in Between:
- School runs Monday through Saturday from 7:15am to 2:00pm. Except on Friday, when it ends at 11:30 so students can attend Friday noon prayer at the mosque.
- Every Monday, there is a 45-minute flag ceremony on the soccer field. Students sing the national anthem and recite a lot of things in Bahasa (I don’t understand most of it).
- School starts and ends with group prayer.
- Students salam teachers and elders to show respect: they touch the elder’s hand to their cheek or forehead in a sort of bowing position. Having 40 kids salam you at the end of class can take a while.
- Teachers lecture at the front of the classroom. At the end of class, the students copy everything from the board into their notebooks. It takes forever and seems inefficient.
- Each class has 35-40 students.
- So. Many. Uniforms. Male students wear grey pants, white collared shirts, and grey ties. Female students wear ankle-length grey skirts, long-sleeved white shirts, grey ties, and grey or white hijabs. Teachers wear light brown pantsuits Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, black and white on Wednesday, and traditional batik on Friday and Saturday. University interns wear matching colored blazers.
- Everything is a competition. English competition. Storytelling competition. Debate competition. Drama competition. Speech competition. If you don’t get 1st place, you’ve failed.
- Coworkers, students, and friends disappear five times a day to pray. Even if it’s in the middle of class or a meeting. I live in a Muslim-majority area.
- Women are expected to cover their skin. Again, Muslim-majority area.
- Roosters are everywhere. Especially at 5 o’clock in the morning.
- You pay for parking. Even if you were only there five minutes.
- Everything is paid for in cash. And you’re expected to have exact change.
- Gas stations have pumps for cars and pumps for motorcycles. The motorcycle lines are always longer.
- Indonesians LOVE taking selfies. Selfie is a verb here. As in “do you want to selfie?”
- McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Dunkin Donuts, and KFC are super high-end. I’m talking three-stories, sit-down, outdoor balcony fancy.
*NOTE: I recognize many of the things listed above are broad, sweeping generalizations. In a country of 250 million, the beliefs, thoughts, and practices of Indonesian people vary greatly. These are simply things I’ve noticed to be generally different from my experience growing up in the US.