Monday, August 31, 2009

Orientation in Jakarta

We are staying in an extremely nice luxury hotel for a few days of orientation. I am enjoying the comfortable king size bed, the hot water, the broadband internet access, the spa, and the fantastic breakfast buffets as long as I can. It’s a sterile, safe environment from which to absorb the cacophony of sights, sounds and smells that is Jakarta. We leave the hotel for little adventures each day. Sometimes we sit through long orientation sessions put on by the Regional Language Office, sometimes we get carted around like the innocent sheep we still are to various points in the city and sometimes we strike out on our own. During one orientation session we met an English teacher who has been in Indonesia since 1959. She was good friends with Barack Obama’s mother and knew Obama as a 10 year-old boy in Jakarta. Interestingly, she said he still speaks Indonesian with native pronunciation, but a 10 year-old’s vocabulary. In another session on cross cultural awareness, we did a fun and useful exercise about our positive and negative impressions of Indonesians so far. We were given Post-It notes and asked to write either one positive or one negative impression per note. Then we stuck all the notes up on the wall and organized them around common themes. Our positive impressions included things like friendliness, kindness, willingness to help and our negative ones included things like not knowing what people are really thinking, not having the privacy we’re used to, rubber time, and the slow pace of life. Our speaker, an Indonesian woman with a PhD in Intercultural Studies, left us with the following two slides of insight to think about based on years of intercultural work with Indonesians and expats: Top Negative Impressions of Indonesians by Internationals: -not assertive enough -no sense of privacy -lazy – not punctual -too quick to agree on issues Top Negative Impressions of Internationals by Indonesians -arrogant -stingy -not friendly/ too individualistic -overly serious As part of the settling in effort, we have been bused to two different shopping malls so far to buy necessities that we might not have brought with us - yesterday alone we spent a good three hours or so buying cell phones and pirated DVDs. From our perches in the bus we’ve driven by slums and luxury hotels, often side by side. We drove by the Ritz and the Marriott hotels, which were bombed earlier this summer. We sat in traffic and watched in fascination as transvestites walked up to the other parked cars and did a little song and dance for money. Our Indonesian guide told us that they first say “Give me money” in a high pitched voice and when none is proffered, they switch to a low voice and chant “Money, money!”. We watched dumbfounded as families of four squeeze together on one motorcycle and more often than not, the children are not wearing helmets. We’ve seen other families living in absolute squalor underneath highway underpasses. We’ve seen children playing in polluted canals. We stare out the window and try to take it all in. One memorable evening, several of us left the hotel in search of dinner and ended up in a Padang restaurant around the corner. Padang means spicy but for me I will now equate it with food that has been sitting out for a long time in a window and gets “recycled”. Let me explain. As soon as we sat down, countless dishes of unidentifiable food appeared instantaneously. Adam, who lived in Java last year, did his best to identify what he could. There was jackfruit and curried eggs but also a couple of dishes that we suspect were brains and dried skin. I picked at my rice and jackfruit and left the rest of it alone, especially after I found out that whatever food is not eaten, is removed by the waiters and put back into the store front windows and served up to the next group of hungry eaters. Now there’s an appetizing thought! I’m enjoying the orientation and definitely enjoying getting to know the other ELFs who are all in the same boat as me, but I’m anxious to get to my town, settle into my house, and really start living in Indonesia.


  1. jackfruit is definitely an acquired taste. hope all's well!

  2. Julianne did you feel the big earthquake that just happened in Indonesia?????

  3. Hey Liz! I'm fine! Had already left Jakarta by the time the earthquake struck (see next blog post). But good thing you and I discussed earthquake preparedness this summer in SF :-).