Shabbiness will not pass here.
There’s a term here (or at least in East Java; not everything I’ve learned in East Java or talked about on this blog necessarily translates to the rest of Indonesia, which is important to keep in mind when you hear me talk about “Indonesia”… I’m often able to correct myself to say “Java” or “East Java” and “Javanese culture” instead of “Indonesian culture,” but this is becoming more imperative now that I’m in a totally new region of the country with a different dominant ethnic group– the Sundanese– and other groups like Cirebonese and Betawi instead of Osing and Tenggerese…more on this later) for people who are kind of, for lack of a better cultural equivalent, backwoods. The direct translation is an adjective form of “village,” which we might anglicize as “village-y” but might be more easily understood, cultural eqiuvalent-wise, by Americans as “hillbilly,” “redneck,” or “hickish”. I’m sure you can think of other relevant synonym. The Javanese term is “ndeso”, and I think it’s a perfect descriptor of myself in comparison with true Jakartans.
I think that lots of what I mentioned in my previous blog post about language might be connected to this term more than I realized before; once, in America, I chatted with a professor (American) in Indonesian, and he had studied bahasa in Jakarta and spoke in a perfectly trendy and fluent fashion. He commented that my bahasa sounded like I was from the sticks, which I suppose is true in terms of where I come from in the States as well as where my accent suggests I live/lived here in Indonesia (remember that I learned most of my Indonesian in a semi-rural East Javanese village; East Java is definitely “the sticks” as far as non-Jakarta locales go… Jakartans tend to ask everyone that’s not from Jakarta something along the lines of “Which part of ‘the land’ are you from?”, where “the land” is “everything that’s not the city”– there’s the city and there’s everything else). I think that I’ve slowly been realizing this week that people might, just might be commenting on my language because of how ndeso I sound. Of course, I’ve gotten comments about my accent simply sounding Javanese, but I think that perhaps there was a hint of surprise and derision underlying some of these comments that perhaps I hadn’t accounted for in previous attempts to understand why the comments have been so pervasive!! And lucky for me, ndeso applies not only to language but also to personal style; if you’re friends with me, you know I’m not the most put-together person on earth, appearance-wise. I bet you can imagine where this discussion is going.
So, I went to buy a new phone charger at a fancy store, and my shabby self was effectively ignored by the shop’s staff, mostly made up of trendy young people in trendy clothes. I was wearing yoga pants that were wearing at the knees, a loose and ill-fitting tunic with a gaudy black-and-white pattern, and grey/pink/blue jogging sneakers with neon pink socks. My hair was a stringy mess. I think my nose was sunburned, too. The red and blue bag I was carrying matched nothing (especially not my rusty orange scarf). I had on knock-off Coco Chanel sunglasses. Zero makeup. I was grubby, in full effect. And now, I realize my futile attempts to chat with those guys probably made them think I was even crazier than I appeared since my accent is so… ndeso. Uncivilized. Not trendy. Not like what we hear on TV shows from the chicest celebs. I don’t expect to be treated well just because I’m a foreigner or a foreigner who speaks bahasa, but it was strange to feel so… honestly, just low class. I was clearly out of my league in this outfit at this mall, and my generally-complimented-on bahasa skills couldn’t even save me. Actually, I felt totally shamed! Nobody did anything directly to shame me or make me feel inferior, but I don’t think an Indonesian would do something like that (as I can easily imagine an American doing). The indirect social shunning was enough!! What would have generally worked in terms of chatting up the staff didn’t fly at all here… I grabbed the charger and bolted, wiping away the sweat that had worked itself up on my brow, fleeing as quickly as I could.
I am clearly a country mouse in the big city. These experiences would happen to me regardless of context if I moved to a big city, since I actually am kind of ndeso, by American standards, even if most of my Malang friends wouldn’t use that term to describe me at all.
Anyway. I got a few new tops and stopped wearing my raggedy yoga pants in public. I fixed my shoe situation and got a nice pair of sandals that would pass as decent by bougie standards. The next time I went to the mall, I put on a bit of makeup. I’m not falling victim here, but I think that I need to step my game up a bit, regardless. Of course, I still laugh a lot on the inside when I see the girls and guys who are trying really hard to be trendy and chic; I can take all of this with a grain of salt, but I do think it’s important, well, not to look like a professional hobo, at least not all the time. This is connected with turning 30, too, I think; I need to be more presentable, in general, perhaps. Ugly duckling!!
The struggle is real, people!! The culture shock continues!
I didn’t realize these were posting to Facebook, but I suppose that’s a good thing; generally, I try to write interestingly but often end up just doing this for myself since writing is one of the best ways– if not the best way– to process new experiences (at least for me), but I guess the gentle reminder that this is a “public” blog will help me be a little more dedicated and thorough. And there’s no excuse for not writing, really, since I’ve got handfuls of free time; hopefully, these posts keep coming regularly.
At the urging of friends, I’ve started to think about doing a book project, but we’ll see; I get so many positive comments about the blog itself, many of which are really too complimentary considering the questionable quality, and it’d be cool if I could somehow turn this into a larger project. But as I said, we’ll see; today, I’d like to do another (effectively) free write about a conversation I had yesterday with my friend Mr. M, a wonderful, thoughtful, and incredibly inspiring person from my Fulbright cohort (and one of the most light-filled, genuine people I’ve ever met).
We discussed many things during our 90-odd minute chat and touched but briefly on the topic/concept (?) of international friendship and relationships, although we didn’t call it this in so many words. Basically, in addition to adapting to all of the basic, basic aspects of life abroad– new food, new bathroom situations, new weather realities, new people (including new friends), and new language/culture (admittedly not so basic)– it goes almost without saying that adaptations occur between oneself and one’s family and friends back home. At the risk of sounding cheesy or juvenile, moving abroad really has shown me who my true family is. This sounds so lame as I’m typing here, and it reminds me of how my PC friends and I used to discuss how the cheesy metaphor “Peace Corps is a roller coaster of emotions” was really the only way to describe the emotional ups and downs even semi-accurately. The same goes here: it’s super cheesy to say, but moving abroad really facilitates true colors being shown, re: friendships.
But that’s not really what this post is about. That’s too simplistic of a concept/observation to bother wasting time with (although I do think there’s something interesting about comparing moving abroad temporarily/finitely, as one might do in PC or with a Fulbright, to really moving abroad possibly long-term and/or without a definite return date, i.e. immigrating or temporarily immigrating– and I won’t say “becoming an expat” since you know that’s a charged term that I really dislike; mainstream Americans would never give Mexican or Syrian immigrants the moniker of “expat”; the term’s charged with privilege and is effectively a racialized term for, in general, white and/or wealthy Westerners who move to the developing world; in the reverse situation, “expats” becomes “immigrants”, since “immigrating” implies leaving/moving for a better life, and who’d ever imagine that a Westerner could find a higher quality of life by moving to a developing country? Plus, I don’t really identify with the wealthy, bubble-living “expat” class here and don’t really want to…– or, even in the moderate/medium-term, establishing a life overseas with no sense of the temporariness of a “stint” or participation in a specific program, which is basically what I’m doing now. There’s a clear additional layer of complexity when the months and years pile on and I get “further and further” from my close friends at home in terms of experiences, re: shared realities. Just as it was hard for me to see the changes my family would go through during Peace Corps because I was so focused on myself, I think there’s a similar risk for friends in the States (especially, honestly, those without international living / immigration experiences who think that strong friendships don’t need pretty much constant tending) in terms of seeing me as a continually dynamic, growing, changing person who has developed another full, real life somewhere else: friends, lovers, family, routines, the humdrum of the day-to-day, responsibility to others (not in the sense of volunteering, but in the sense of really being a part of a community because this is my life, not because I’m needing to be a do-gooder or continue bringing my PCV attitude with me and be actively engaged, etc.). This is especially true when people drop out of touch despite efforts on my part to keep engaging with them. And I’m not trying to point any blame, per se; some people just can’t deal, which I can relate to, since I can’t really deal with America in ways that they perhaps can! Strengths and weaknesses for everyone.
Just this, though: it takes a lot of fucking work to maintain quality friendships overseas, and I don’t think this fact is fully appreciated or talked about nearly enough… or perhaps I didn’t fully appreciate this until actually “immigrating” or deciding to continue living here without a 100% firm return date. There are some people who do not or cannot put this work in, and it’s a sobering and sometimes heartbreaking experience/realization.
So, to touch on what Mr. M and, now that I think of it, Ms. C (a glorious PCV friend) and I have been discussing separately over the past 24 hours, personality types and “fits” (as in “fitting in,” not “conniption”) play a huge role in this. But now that I’m writing this out, it seems so obvious; am I generally just stating the obvious on this blog all the time? Whatever. Friendship success depends on our individual personalities as well as those of our friends back in the States, and I think it’s extremely hard to maintain friendships (and some family relationships) long-term AND long-distance when personality types are not harmonious. This doesn’t mean that they don’t have to match, but there needs to be a certain give-and-take established from the start of the relationship if it’s ever to survive the trials and tribulations of extreme distance (and time). Mr. M and I both display characteristics of HSPs (and I identify as an HSP), and this absolutely, undoubtedly influences the way I experience my long-distance friendships. I can get easily overwhelmed by the number of texts I get on a given day as I try to keep regular conversations open with people all over, easily frustrated at my perceived inability to give everyone what they want and need while maintaining a regimen of self-care and awareness of my own needs, and easily, acutely hurt when friendships start to fall apart or get rocky, even if the other people/person involved may not have any feelings of the sort (or even consider things to be rocky). The pain involved in realizing someone doesn’t prioritize a friendship in the same way is one of the most worst things I have ever experienced; I didn’t sign up to lose friends, but I have to admit, thinking I wouldn’t lose some friends by moving halfway around the world would be naive, so of course I can deal, but I’m not here to say that mourning is easy or that I really anticipated how deeply I’d feel things… or that I’d want to deal at all.
A (The) hard(est?) thing is thinking about how it’s impossible that I haven’t done this to others, knowingly or not. There have been friends I’ve intentionally pushed away, but I didn’t know what else to do. I simply couldn’t and can’t maintain everything, for one, and second, the effort and letdown process gets really fucking tiring after a while, and I can’t keep up the energy. And it’s hard to come to terms with the fact that someone I care or have cared about must or may feel similarly about me. Of course, the empathy is real, but it sucks being the one, well, broken up with. Since I’m an HSP with a history of being the one breaking up with people in romantic relationships, I think the pain is more acutely felt when I’m on the raw end of a friendship deal; I don’t generally put maximum effort into friendships I don’t see as being permanent or very long-term, and I think this is a normal approach to things that most everyone takes, and having to decipher whether it’s distance or myself that’s to blame for a friendship failure can lead to dark places. Unrequited love sucks. (See why I feel I’m stating the obvious?) But the personality type angle is arguably interesting; heartbreak of all sorts hits us all in different ways, and figuring out how we process things differently or just in general figuring out how we as individuals process experiences and emotions based on core elements of our being is incredibly worthwhile (and perhaps a major aspect of the purpose of our lives). Self-awareness!!
BUT this sad place is not where I wanted this blog post to go, and I think it’s time to shift gears and get back to the nuggets of gold from my convo with Mr. M. I’ve spent a lot of time lately reflecting on the last ten years of my life since I turned thirty a few days ago; it has been a nice opportunity to think about the amazing people I’ve met, places I’ve seen, food I’ve eaten, jobs I’ve had, achievements I’ve made (etc.) in my twenties. I think that overall, I’ve done well, though I had a few huge fights I’m not proud of, had some questionable drinking habits at certain points, and probably had one too many meaningless flings with too many meaningful people. I had my heart broken a couple of times and did the same to others. I made some stupid financial decisions and took some jobs and chances that I maybe shouldn’t have taken. I changed my eating habits a lot, often extremely. I made some sacrifices and moved to Southeast Asia three times.
And of course, lots of good stuff happened along the way, too. As I look back on pictures and memories and see what pulls my heartstrings, though, it’s not about the food or nature adventures or snapping the best pic or catching the coolest performance or exhibit or cultural event– it’s always about the people. And this connects to my conversation with Mr. M since the theme of our discussion was, on a very general level, growing up. That real growing up that seems to be, or so I’ve gathered, a never-ending process that only starts as soon as you think you’ve grown up.
Back to people. What I never could have anticipated when joining PC, going to grad school, accepting my Fulbright, continuing at UMM, and probably even now, moving to Jakarta, were the amazing friendships I’d make. Of course, logically, we know we‘ll make friends when embarking on new life chapters, but I think that younger people– or at least, my younger self– tend to focus on the things that seem more impending: making a difference, teaching, learning a new language, doing projects, taking pictures, having adventures, etc.– in other words, the arguably more salient aspects of jumping into life abroad and all that comes with it. And of course, making new friends is always on the radar, but it’s just so miraculous to look back and really understand what I was getting into by joining these programs and making these choices; I didn’t join specifically to make friends, but making friends– the specific, amazing, wonderful people I’ve met– is, ultimately, one of the best outcomes of what I’ve done up to this point, when perhaps, at the beginning, I thought other outcomes would be the most important. Having a picture of a nice mountain or beach is great, but having a picture of a nice mountain or beach with a friend who eventually would become a huge or even permanent part of my life is what’s really special. Making and falling in love with friends and friendships is a beautiful process, and I feel that I’ve been very lucky in my life and in my twenties in particular to meet more true friends than I can count on one hand. Out of the hundreds if not thousands of people I’ve crossed paths with over the past ten years or so, I never could have anticipated the profound joy of seeing my life unfold in terms of friendships and chosen family, despite the sorrow incurred along the way. And it makes me so excited to see what’s next for us in Jakarta. At this point, this birthday time, looking back at the smart, talented, caring, funny, deeply intelligent and thoughtful people I’ve met– not even all Americans or all Indonesians, by any stretch– is what brings me the most happiness. And I guess it’s part of growing up to realize that this is how it’s supposed to be. I’m still young, but I think I’ve got a much better perspective on myself and my friendships than I did a few years ago and definitely value the person-to-person aspects of life more deeply than ever before… even if it’s a surprisingly vibrant but still very new friendship built and cultivated from a distance, right Mr. M? I don’t think I’ve mentioned, but I’ve only seen Mr. M maybe… twice, in person? You see why I consider myself lucky; it can be hard to forge deep connections while living abroad and in big cities (even domestically) since by nature these scenes are transitory, but that’s also part of what’s driving my excitement and passions: I just really don’t know and can’t even anticipate the exciting people I’ll meet and potentially strange friendship-building processes we’ll experience together.
And as for that sorrow, I think the pain is eased by this very realization: the future really is limitless and full of potential. Each person is a new reality in and of themselves… and now that I’m living in the third largest megacity on earth, who knows what new people will come into my life, potentially for good?
There’s more in my mind about this subject, but I think this is a good start for now. Thanks for reading. ❤
PS: Thank you, technology.
Gah! I don’t even know where to start, really! Let’s just do it and see what happens.
Caitlin and I were talking this week, and she asked me whether people still commented on my language skills. It was amazing to her how almost every new person we met when we were travelling here together would comment on my Indonesian: how good it is, how well I’ve got the Javanese accent down, how surprised they are. These comments are always followed by a slew of predictable questions: How long have you been here? What do you do? Where are you from? What’s the best part about Indonesia? What’s your favorite Indonesian food? Is it better here or in America?
I thought for sure that when I came to Jakarta, my decent language capabilities might be a little bit less of a conversation starter than in East Java, which is true to some extent, but absolutely not always the case. Here, there have definitely been several people who haven’t even blinked at my Indonesian, which is sort of what I expected; there are so many more foreigners here, and many of them are involved in diplomacy and business, both of which require or necessitate or just plain benefit from people having basic Indonesian skills, if not advanced. However, what’s been striking me is that many people– especially drivers and food vendors– seem just as shocked as anyone I’ve ever met to realize I speak Indonesian. Of course, this had me thinking; perhaps there aren’t as many fluent foreigners as I’d imagined there would be, and this must certainly be the case (although on Monday, I did hear an American senior Fulbright lecturer give a lecture partially in Indonesian, and his fluency and speed were the most impressive I’ve ever heard from an American– which was so inspiring to me!!). The paucity of fluent foreigners means that it may come as even more of a surprise to the folks who are used to foreigners not knowing a lick of Indonesian. That, in turn, makes me even more glad that I have a decent grasp of the language!! I gotta represent and show people that some foreigners are invested in life here… not that those not learning Indonesian necessarily aren’t, but you see the point. Nobody will argue that living and travelling abroad are different beasts.
Side note: for some reason, my brain just jumped to those “You’re in America, learn English!”-type hard-liners we hear all too frequently in the States… it’s so sad to think of the privileges English speakers have abroad and to reflect on the fact that here, and I’m sure many other places, there is absolutely no such rhetoric about foreigners needing to learn the national language, let alone any local languages. Can you imagine one of these hard-liners moving to Jakarta or Mexico City or Beijing? I bet they’d still yell at people to learn English. Anyway.
I’m off on a tangent (which is fine, since I’m just writing this free-flow style). I also wanted to mention the several instances where my language skills have caused happy confusion. Here in Jakarta, we’ve got access to apps that allow us to order motorcycle rides wherever we want. I’m sure there’s a similar system in the States– well, actually, it’s Uber for motorcycles, and though there is an Uber system here including Uber Motor(cycle), apps like GoJek (a play on the word “ojek,” a traditional motorcycle-and-driver for hire) and Grab also provide similar services– but to me, it’s all a novelty. I learned how to use Uber a couple of weeks ago and have been learning GoJek and Grab, too. Usually, the drivers call to confirm the pickup location. I’ve mentioned to a couple that I’m easy to spot because I’m a foreigner, but sometimes it doesn’t come up. At least three times this week, the driver has expressed surprised upon picking me up because they thought I was Javanese, based on the way I speak on the phone. This is a compliment, of course, and they’re being genuine about their surprise, but I also find it to be problematic, since I get the feeling I’m irritating them a bit because I can’t for the life of me describe where I am sometimes (I just know I need to be picked up!!! And that they have my GPS location). One of my drivers slipped into Javanese during the initial phone conversation, which was fine but a bit challenging for me (if you speak a second or third language, you know that doing so on the phone is a bit more challenging than when you can read lips and see a person’s face). Eventually, of course, he found me, although I definitely wasted three minutes of his time by incorrectly describing where I was… due to sheer lack of knowledge about my position rather than language shortcomings. Oops. This was an easy fix, though: I asked a nearby parking attendant how to describe where we were and then texted my driver. The driver was, in true Jakarta spirit (I guess?), more cheesed than I expected him to be. People here aren’t so santai (relaxed) as they are “in the provinces”. But again, I digress.
In general, what I get compliments on here, too, is my Javanese accent. This has happened before when travelling outside of Java, but I must say, it’s quite affirming and also funny when I hear this comment. I’m proud to bring all of my love for East Java and all that it’s taught me everywhere I go and pleased that saying a few words can now spark a conversation not so much about myself but about East Java and my experiences there, about which I’m always eager to share. If one can be patriotic for a province, that’s me to a T. But it’s funny since I never learned Indonesian anywhere else but in East Java, and it’s easy to think that that’s the standard form of the language. I’m excited to see what new turns of phrase, terminology, and accents I pick up here in Jakarta; I’ve already learned a couple of new slang terms thanks to the AMINEF staff, but I’m already prejudiced against “bahasa Jakarta” as any true non-Jakartan would be. The guttural “Lo” and “Gue”, the Jakarta forms of “You” and “Me” (as opposed to “kamu”/”aku” / “anda”/”saya” / “awakmu”/”awakku”), are not pleasing to my ears, and whenever I hear them used seriously in conversation, I just think of Indonesian daytime soap operas.
Okay, I think this is all for tonight. I’ve been walking and walking for days, it seems, since I’m trying to learn the places I can go quickly and easily and independently without using an app or paying a bit of money to get there, and this has required a lot of walking. I’ve also been doing some sight-seeing, which has been fantastic; oddly, I haven’t spent much time at the museums and other interesting sights here, even though I’ve lived in Java so long. This is, as of two nights ago, the longest period of time I’ve ever stayed in Jakarta, and it’s certainly the most free time I’ve ever had here. So, the sightseeing stuff is long coming, I guess I could say… kind of how I didn’t see the ocean and Washington DC until my mid-twenties. What can I say? I’m a late bloomer.
Also, I’m 30 years old now!!!!
More tomorrow: people, living situation, fulfilling basic needs, etc. Potentially boring updates from a very small town girl in an enormous city. I’ll post some pics, too, and try to wrangle some more Jakarta fun facts for you. Plus, this super-amazing Batawi puppet artistry, in this pic being used to get people to follow traffic rules and regulations:
…and additional cool stuff about the ethnic groups to be found in West Java / the Jakarta area.
The Daily Post at WordPress.com just so happened to use the word “Surface” as its prompt for the day; they encourage writers to make brief posts based on prompts–generally one-word–and hope to empower bloggers to maintain a daily posting regimen. I remember that about this time a year ago– or was it two years now?– I set a daily post goal for myself. Needless to say, it didn’t pan out. I had a great time blogging this past academic semester on a private writing group blog with some of my friends also undertaking writing projects (I was finishing up my comparative piece on healers in the US Midwest and in East Java, Indonesia– the “capstone” of my Fulbright, I guess I could say) and kept up with daily writing for the better part of three months, about which I posted regular recaps. But this blog has really been sorely neglected since I started tutoring for Pearson, which necessitates a lot of click-clacking away at the keyboard and lots of oft-grueling screen time. I also found myself using this blog as a travel stories platform more frequently than for its original purpose–longreads about my experiences travelling here and learning new things about Indonesian/Javanese culture–since I didn’t experience as much personal need for the therapeutic value of posting things of that nature anymore. I guess this is a Third Goal fail, but it’s not like I wasn’t still teaching you all or some audience somewhere about Indonesia or continuing to do the good work of increasing the peace, as an RPCV; of course, I’ve been a very actively engaged RPCV in terms of maintaining a substantial relationship with Indonesia, and as a side note I must say I’m damn proud of some of the work the other RPCVs from this country are doing for Indonesia as well as for the States… regardless of whatever failures not writing on this blog in recent months may indicate, I’m back, at least for now– the therapeutic appeal is real since I’ve moved to the capital city of Indonesia, the “big durian,” the world’s most congested megacity, the seat of power in all forms in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country and 3rd largest democracy in the world: Jakarta. I moved two days ago.
Now, surface. After this very long and rambling introduction, it’s time to move on with the prompt. Surface. I’m planning to stay here for a short amount of time, and I know already that I’ll barely scratch the surface of this massive city. The population is 10 million more than NYC, and the population density is 10,000 more per square mile; the metro area of Jakarta is half that of NYC. As it goes with Indonesia, a lifetime wouldn’t be enough. If we speak further of surfaces and these two cities, it’s important to let you know that Jakarta has no metro system since it’s so close to the sea and is, in fact, sinking annually by not insignificant amounts into that sea. Around the archipelago, Jakarta is most famous for its traffic jams, pollution, and general haziness. The buildings shoot upwards to the sky and the gray haze, but the people are most often not found inside those skyscrapers but rather, depressingly, are all stuck somewhere on the pavement, immobile, hot, and frequently irritated. I once saw a view of the city at night from an airplane, and the highways and sidestreets were glowing like a fluorescent lightbulb in a ceiling: a solid tube of light, radiating from a track… and of course, motionless. The streets are where most life in this city is spent, it seems.
To get around in this city without a motorcycle or the patience to sit under the heavy air while waiting for the chance to push forward a few meters every few minutes, I’ve started using Uber and GoJek/Grab (uber-like motocycle services, the equivalent of which I don’t think we have in the States yet. Thankfully, one of my PCV friends taught me how to use both of these, and even more thankfully, both of them exist; the fixed rates are the best option compared to metered taxis, and the services offered will make life much easier. The Jakarta taxi drivers have been pissed about the surging popularity of services like GoJek and Uber, though, but the protests of recent months and other demonstrations understaken to purposefully block roadways have subsided; I understand their plight, but my god, how can we pay so much for so little? Maybe they’ll just quit and become Uber drivers… although Uber people are everywhere already. GoJek is wonderful because I can order food from basically anywhere and have it delivered for a roughly $0.75 fee. They’ll also purchase and deliver groceries, send cleaning staff, or arrange a massage therapist and bring them over, among other things.
And actually, a nice young GoJek driver just brought me a bag full of Indian food. Time to eat… hold that thought.
More soon (including pictures).
By the way, my sister is blogging about Indonesia here!!!