Indonesia (English version) 🇺🇸 🇬🇧
It was May 12, 2019, when I arrived in Indonesia. The first Asian country that I stepped on, my first encounter with cultures completely different from what I was used to. The culture shock was as huge and abrupt as it was inevitable and unpredictable.
There are many things that I have learned from this country that I did not know. I was very surprised to learn that it ranks fourth in world population.
Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world in terms of area and is in fifth position in terms of number of islands with more than 17,500. To get an idea of how big it is, here I show you a comparison against the territory of the United States.
The middle island, Borneo, is not only the largest island in the archipelago, it is also the third largest island in the world.
From the air you can see geographic formations that stand out above the clouds and the funny thing is that all of them are in the shape of cones, they are all volcanoes, some great others small.
Over time I learned that the volcanoes of Indonesia are big tourist attractions and I began to plan visit those that I would like to climb. But it wasn't until after 2 years that I learned how impressive the data was in this regard.
Most of Indonesia's volcanoes belong to the Sunda Volcanic Arc, which extends over 3,000 kilometers, associated with the islands of Sumatra and Java, the Sunda Strait, and the Lesser Sunda Islands. A chain of volcanoes forms the topographical backbone of these islands.
The arc marks an active convergent boundary between the eastern Eurasian plates - especially the Sunda plate and the Burma plate - which includes Indonesia, and the Indian and Australian plates that form the seafloor of the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Bengal. .
Indonesia leads the world in many volcano statistics. It has the highest number of historically active volcanoes (76), its total of 1,171 dated eruptions is only surpassed by 1,274 in Japan, although not much is known about volcanic activity in the time before the arrival of European colonialists from the XV century. Indonesia has suffered the largest number of eruptions that have resulted in fatalities, damage to arable land, mudflows, tsunamis, domes and pyroclastic streams. Four fifths of Indonesian volcanoes with dated eruptions have erupted in this century.
Two of the most devastating volcanic eruptions in history took place in Indonesia: the massive Tambora eruption in 1815, the largest known eruption in the world during historical times, had such far-reaching effects on climate that, for example, Europe experienced 1816 like the year without a summer. In 1883, the disastrous eruption of the Krakatau was deeply etched in the collective memory of mankind. The Krakatau eruption was followed by severe tsunamis that killed 30-40,000 people.
In 1920, the government led by the Netherlands established a study of volcanoes, which led to much better monitoring and reporting of volcanoes. The Indonesian Volcano Survey (VSI) now operates a network of 64 volcano observatories that continuously monitor 59 volcanoes.
The good thing is that I did not know anything about this data in December 2019 when I went camping on the slopes of the Rinjani volcano in Lombok, considered active.
In this photo I am looking at the cone of the Rinjani volcano and on my left you can see a small volcano of recent origin called Gunung Baru Jari that was smoking on that day.
Its currency is the Rupiah (Rp) and 1Rp = 100 sen. These coins and bills are the most fragile I have ever had in my hands and the most abused. People are not used to organizing bills in a wallet and they keep them in a lump and crumpled up. The old bills emit a very peculiar smell, like musty.
The cost of living in Indonesia is very low. GDP per capita in Indonesia is expected to reach $ 4,450.00 by the end of 2021. Here the money from Western economies pays off so there is a lot of foreign investment and a large population of expatriates taking advantage of this situation. If you are attracted to visiting Indonesia, its exchange rate is a real incentive to do so. You will be surprised how cheap everything is here. The exchange rate is very favorable, around 14,000 RP for $ 1.
To give you an idea of how cheap life is, I will give you some examples here.
The working class or any person with limited resources who goes out to buy something to eat, regularly buys a Nasi Jinggo, this is a portion of cooked white rice with small portions of 1, 2 or 3 stews with a small piece of meat of chicken or fish and sauce wrapped in paper or banana leaf to take away, its cost is between 5,000 and 7,000 RP or between $ 0.35 and $ 0.50 USD.
This is chicken (ayam) shredded (sisit) and it cost me 5,000 RP
The working class or any middle class employee who goes out to eat regularly pays between 10,000 and 20,000 RP or between $ 0.70 and $ 1.40 USD for a larger portion of cooked white rice with 3 or 4 small portions of stews on a plate and they sit down to eat it in places called Warung that are range from small pop up stands on the street to big established restaurants and they are everywhere.
Here I show you a menu as an example and also what I usually eat. It's called Nasi (rice) campur (pronounced champur and means mix or cocktail). I eat a lot more than the locals so my plate is full. On my plate there are 6 medium portions of assorted casseroles plus a bowl of soup and I pay between 15,000 and 20,000 RP depending on the location.
(Slideshow of 4 pictures)
For the upper or privileged class, going out to eat sushi or a good cut of meat or to some American place like Kentucky Fried Chicken that is considered expensive and normally prohibitive for most of the population costs between 50,000 and 100,000 RP per person or between $ 3.50 and $ 7 USD.
(Slideshow of 2 pictures)
Despite being one of the most populous countries in the world, it has been able to achieve food self-sufficiency in strategic crops and increase general levels of food security. Even so, it has a high rate of malnutrition among its population. Other nutrition indicators show that around a third of Indonesian children are underweight and children under 5 are stunted, worrying statistics for a middle-income country like Indonesia.
On the other hand, at 71 years of age, the average life expectancy is relatively high.
I had lived the pandemic here and I must say that since Covid-19 arrived in the country I had not met anyone who has suffered from it, until just a few days ago and much less have I known someone who has died within my social circles. It is as if the Coronavirus does not exist. Apart from the fact that everyone here wears face masks, they all continue their normal lives.
The national language is known as Bahasa Indonesia (Bahasa = Language or idiom), although later, when I visited Malaysia, I found out that they share the same language only that there it is officially called Bahasa Melayu (Malay Language) but there they commonly call it Malay. Over time I learned that in the 70's they decided to unify their languages into one and today it is spoken in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei and East Timor. The normative standard is Bahasa Riau, the language of the Riau Archipelago, considered the place of origin.
Although Bahasa Indonesia is the official language, it should be noted that there are more than 580 regional languages and dialects. For example, on the island of Java they speak Javanese, in Bali its inhabitants speak Balinese, on the island of Lombok where I lived for more than a year people speak Sasak and on the island of Sumbawa they use a dialect that bears the same name.
Unlike the vast majority of Asian languages, Indonesian uses a writing system based on the Latin alphabet. The pronunciation of Indonesian does not pose difficulties for Spanish speakers as the pronunciation of its letters is very similar with few exceptions. The c is always pronounced as ch. A very common example is the car wash signs that you see everywhere. Cuci Motor Mobil (Cuci = wash, Motor = motorcycle and Mobil = car) is pronounced <chuchi>.
I arrived in Indonesia landing in Bali, this terminal is very different from western airports.
After assembling my bike I went out to the street and was again surprised by the roads and their traffic dominated by scooters. Fortunately, I was already used to riding on the left side from New Zealand, but even so it was difficult at first to move in this new, quite chaotic and fast-paced environment.
Roads and traffic
Wherever I have traveled, whether in Bali, Lombok or Sumbawa, which are the islands that I have visited, I must be very vigilant because violations of traffic laws are the most common, in large part because the police shine for their absence. It is very rare to see policemen patrolling the streets. In the 2 years that I have been here, I have only seen patrols escorting politicians or large vehicles such as trailers transporting heavy machinery and supporting demonstrations or mass events. I have never seen them stopping violators or giving fines. Before the pandemic, in Bali, corruption seemed to be the police focus, they liked to grab tourists to extract dollars from them under any pretext of infringement. They pulled me to the side of the road at a red light where there were many motorcyclists and they looked for a pretext to fine me, which they did.
Here are some examples of what I have had to learn to be alert while traveling in Indonesia:
They run red lights with ease.
Regardless of the size of the road, for them it is very easy to circulate in the opposite direction.
They invade the opposite lane, the wrong way, assuming they have already been spotted.
They indicate that they are going to turn almost at the moment of doing it, they do not signal with enough anticipation.
Many circulate without lights at night, I call those ghosts.
Rear-view mirrors are conspicuous by their absence, and those who have them, do not use them to change lanes or turn, most have them adjusted to see themselves, vanity over safety.
Therefore, they are used to change lanes without checking who is next to them.
They enter the transit flow without considering the traffic.
The vast majority drive extremely slow, as many are new drivers, first generation as car-owners.
They consider themselves superior to motorcyclists and make maneuvers that put them in danger.
They overpower motorcyclists by forcing them to brake or pull over.
There are many animals on the rural roads, mostly dogs and chickens.
The absence of curbs or sidewalks in the countryside forces pedestrians to walk on the asphalt strip.
There are sections with trees on the side of the road and sometimes in the lane.
Here is what has been outstanding for me during my stay in this country.
Wherever I go, regardless of whether they are Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist, it highlights that their communities are organized in villages, with a strong ancestral family roots. Society in Indonesia is very respectful and gentle. They have a smile always ready for you, they are generous and hospitable.
In Lombok I found a typical Muslim restaurant called Sukma Rasa where from the beginning I was welcomed with open arms. From the employees to the owners they made me feel like part of the family. Here is a photo taken the day I said goodbye.
Traveling through Indonesia I have realized that it is a country dedicated mostly to agriculture, the basis of their diet is rice and in that they are self-sufficient. Below is a photo of the beginning of the rice cycle. First the seeds germinate and it is at this point that they collect the tender shoots in bunches and then take them to replant in the fields. There they sow them by hand one by one but more apart.
No matter where I go, there are rice fields everywhere, it is what strengthens the social fabric of Indonesia, I even see them in urban areas and overpopulated cities. Here I show you a semi-important road that crosses a plain and connects the south coast of Lombok with the east coast of the island.
Due to being a developing country with a growing economy the general population cannot pay import prices. I was very surprised to see that almost everything that is consumed in the country is domestic, that is, made in Indonesia. It is very rare to see imported articles for popular consumption, these are reserved for the consumption of expatriates from developed countries who already live here, tourists in general and the growing middle and upper classes of society who can now pay the high cost of imported goods.
Nowhere have I felt safer than in this country and especially during my stay on the island of Lombok. No matter where I went, or the time, or with whom I met, I always felt safe, without any fear of any kind. In the 2 years that I have been here I have not witnessed any violent act, not even people yelling at each other. As far as I have seen they are people of peace.
Two attacks and the arrests of nearly 100 suspects in recent months show that Islamist terrorism remains a substantial threat in Indonesia, both from pro-Islamic State cells and a possible resurgence of an old regional network.
A suicide bomb attack on March 28 in front of a church in Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi province, took the nation by surprise, given the collapse of the Islamic State in Syria and the perception that the pandemic was suffocating to local cells.
Fourteen people were injured and only the perpetrators, a newly married couple in their 20s, were killed. The couple were affiliated with Jamaah Ansharud Daulah (JAD), a local group that has pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State.
Another threat comes from Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a regional terrorist network linked to Al-Qaeda whose cells spanned Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines during its heyday. The group was responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people and a few other major terrorist attacks in Indonesia in the 2000s.
JI, seen as anti-IS, has been largely dormant in the last decade, with JAD and other pro-IS cells and their weaker capabilities dominating the Indonesian terror scene.
Fortunately I have not had any encounters with any of this during my stay.
It is also very pleasant to see how nationals and foreigners coexist in peace together with the different religions of the world, respecting their individualities. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians celebrating their holidays and observing their dogmas and principles in complete freedom and inclusion.
Indonesia is the country with the most inhabitants who follow the precepts of Islam and profess the Muslim religion.
The island of Bali is the exception where more than 90% of the Balinese are Hindus. Although they practice a very particular form of Hinduism known as "Balinese Hinduism" that mixes belief in Hindu gods and doctrines alongside animistic beliefs and worship of Buddhist saints. Other religious minorities in Bali are Muslims (mainly coastal fishermen), Christians and Buddhists. For this reason Bali is known as the island of a thousand temples because Hindu temples abound throughout the island.
Apparently, on the neighboring island of Lombok, there is the highest concentration of Muslim population in the world. Known as the island of a thousand mosques for its abundant number, which according to public figures are around 400,000 scattered throughout the island.
There are many differences between our cultures and societies because in all cases they are governed by principles based on our religions. That is why the following title is dedicated to those differences that for me turned out to be surprising.
Below I am going to describe events and situations that turned out to be strange to me and potentially will be to anyone who comes from a Western culture. Upon my arrival in Bali this is what stood out.
This was my first culture shock, the most shocking of all, the most radical, the most decisive to which I was forced to adapt quickly with lasting and permanent effects that I maintain to this day. What do you do the first day you arrive in an unknown country, ask to use the toilet, go in, and all you see is this?
I remember standing there looking at "it" on the ground for a couple of minutes thinking.
What's up with this?
How is this used?
After analyzing it for a while I said to myself ... well, I think it is a matter of squatting hahaha
But the surprise did not stop there, when I finished my 'business' the first thing I looked for was the roll of paper and the handle to flush the 'toilet' and no matter how much I looked around I did not find either of them. Being a cautious man who roams the world I always carry what is necessary for that type of eventuality and that day I passed the test but that day also began a new stage in my life to which I have been adapting and which has not ended yet.
The next day they gave me accommodation in a mosque and things got even weirder because I had to walk through a corridor covered with water to get to the toilet. I took this little video on that occasion and if you pay attention to the end you can see what a classic toilet in Indonesia consists of. A squat toilet, a water tank next to it and a basin to wash with a hand soap.
I can tell you that I have adjusted so well that I have not used toilet paper in over 2 years. But the squatting thing to 'do my business' I have not been able to master because my heel fracture and the subsequent recovery have not allowed me.
I asked my friend Fikri about it and recently I learned that the sanitation habits of a Muslim are governed by the Quran. This establishes the way to go to the bathroom. I was very surprised to learn that both men and women squat to pee and poo. The man is instructed that it is not correct to pee standing up because it is the way of the animals. Another reason they avoid it is because they get splashed and that makes them "unclean" and prevents them from entering the mosque to pray. They also have an argument that, biologically speaking, it is healthier to urinate squatting than standing.
Emptying the intestine for a Muslim implies other customs that surprised me a lot. Instead of using toilet paper, they use the middle finger of their left hand EXCLUSIVELY and when doing so they must make a sound every time it is passed underneath. The hand should be washed very well with the basin and soap. Other measures are established in the Quran for when you are in the field without access to water that explain how to clean your hand by passing it through a rock, branches or vegetation up to 4 times, the objective is that there is no bad smell on the hand.
Over time I realized that traditional Indonesian bathrooms are almost always wet and there is a lot of humidity, they are characterized by having the floor always splashed with water, especially if it is a Muslim bathroom.
Obviously those who only visit tourist sites may not even realize the differences, since hotels, restaurants, bars, government offices and any establishment dedicated to serving foreign tourists have adapted to our customs and offer "western" toilets. They know we are used to walking into a room with a toilet, toilet paper, and a sink. There are some places where they offer both styles, traditional and western.
I also found toilets where both worlds merge. This is the increasingly popular case for a western toilet but with the addition of a jet shower next to it.
I was able to experience toilets that have a mechanism under the seat. When you finish emptying the intestines, turn a handle that is located on the right side of the seat and a mechanism is activated by extending a tube under the seat that in turn streams a jet of water directly to the anus. At first it was an experience that left me perplexed because I had never experienced it, after using it several times I got used to it and began to enjoy it because the truth is that it produces a very nice feeling. At the end, when finished, the tube retracts to its original place, remaining out of sight under the seat.
In conclusion, I believe that this is the case for the rest of the Indonesian population and I suspect that in the rest of Asia. The vast majority of Indonesian people do not have a seating toilet and it is very likely that they have never used toilet paper in their lives.
The sacred foods
The next surprise was the first time I shared food with local people. It was the day after I arrived, my birthday. A group of Muslims who hosted me were about to break their fast because this happened during Ramadan and they invited me to eat with them.
You can imagine my amazement when I began to see that dinner would take place on the floor. They do not use chairs or tables, they are used to spreading synthetic mats or mats made of palm fronds on the floor where they put the viands with food and drinks in the center and everyone sits around barefoot.