Category Archives: reflection

Language woes? Ndeso woes.

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 classI 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!

 

And now… more words!

A few things I didn’t get to say about the Idul Adha festivities yesterday…

I was texting about witnessing animal sacrifice with a few different people–Kate and Sarah Kate and one of the new Fulbright English Teaching Assistants.^ I find it strange that after over a decade of vegetarianism and pretty intense concern for animal welfare that I’m obsessed with going to witness the slaughter every year when Idul Adha comes around. I can’t not go see it, and I always take a bunch of pictures and get real up close and personal with the “gore”… without even flinching. I guess it just surprises me that it doesn’t shock me more?

There’s something beautiful about watching people watch what happens on Idul Adha. It’s not like all Javanese people are always respectful* of the animals all the time, by any means–I’ve seen people playing around with decapitated animal heads and making what I experience as inappropriate jokes considering a life was just taken–but it’s easy to respect the fact that they’re fully aware of and willing to witness what happens to animals when they become human food. I think being up close to it on a regular basis desensitizes people in some ways, and even though keeping an extreme distance from it as most Americans do ultimately serves the same purpose it seems somehow more ethical to face reality rather than avoid it. It’s nice to watch people be willing to at least recognize and acknowledge what happens.

I used to make myself feel guilty for being kind of obsessed with documenting and witnessing animal slaughter, like wow, that’s so gruesome and violent–why are you so into this? What sort of dark side of yourself is coming out here? I’ve come to the conclusion, though, that what attracts me to it is the ritual of it all and something more, well, what I called “basic instinct” when chatting with Kate and SK. It’s fascinating not because it’s violent but because it’s just… natural. Killing is just as much a part of life as dying and death are; as part of a complex system of predators and prey, the concepts of killing / being killed are ingrained somewhere deep within us and always were since before we could know of them. And I don’t think I can understand what pulls me to witness only by examining the thoughts that run through my head. It’s not (only) a gruesome fascination or an expression of the human proclivity for violence but must also be something more biological and instinctual; my body wants to know. Visceral: relating to deep inward feelings rather than to the intellect.

I can’t decide if I’m stating the obvious or actually getting onto something good. Maybe it’s time to rest for tonight… maybe more in the future on this topic.

Sam

^There are two in Malang! Hope to meet them soon!
*Of course, the process for and concept of showing respect varies from culture to culture… I think Americans tend to respect animals because they anthropomorphize them (and this habit can be traced to our affinity for keeping housepets), which is different from showing respect by using the whole body of the animal (if not “treating it right” as an American might think an animal corpse should be treated).