Sunday, September 26, 2010

The last P, with miscellaney

If the title doesn't make sense to you, you should probably read the previous blog.
            I enjoy the challenge of learning language.  I realized in Guatemala how rewarding it is.  When you progress to finally being able to have mini conversations, like I can now in Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian Language). I can understand and answer simple questions, though I am still at the point where I can understand more of what I hear or read than I can speak.

           I have always chosen to learn languages that are based on Latin letters, the same alphabet that English uses. ( for more information).  I figure it will save me time learning another writing form as I would have to for Mandarin or Korean.  There are some pronunciation difference, like I tell my students each letter has a name and a sound in English. And a common alphabet often leads to commonalities.  A case in point is what I have notices with English and Indonesian.  Indonesian is a young language.  Before the creation of the Republic of Indonesia each of the islands and often within the islands, there were different languages.  On the island of Java where Jakarta is located, most people spoke Javanese.  On Bali they spoke, you guessed it, Balinese. To unite the islands some linguists sat down to make a common language.  They wanted something simple enough that even the impoverished and uneducated could learn it.  They created a language based on Malaysian with Portugese and Dutch influences.  There aren't formal tenses of past or present. To refer to the past one uses "already", "before" or "yesterday", for the future "later" or "tomorrow".  This tends to leave foreigners a little confused as to when something actually happened.  I had that problem.  When someone told me they did such and such yesterday when I know they didn't.  Although, as I've been here longer I realize that time here is much more elastic and fluid than I first thought.  I also now say something happened last week when in reality it may have been three or four weeks ago.  There are no seasons, the daylight hours are always the same, the days are full and tend to run together.  I assume it was these factors as much as the language that has lent the culture to speak the way it does.

               The common thread I mentioned before was phonetic spelling.  I started compiling a list of some of the words I had never seen before but knew what they mean..  A good example: otomotif.  If you say it out loud, you'll know know immediately what it is.  Try it.  Did you guess automotive?  Some are obscure until someone points out how simple it is.  I asked a friend of mine what it said on the side of a food cart.  She said, "you know".  I said I didn't.  She told me to look at it again.  I looked at it and then gave her a puzzled look.  Es krim, huh?  "Think!  It's ICE CREAM" she told me like I was an absolute idiot.  Since then I think I've gotten the hang of the obvious.  The only thing you really must remember is that 'c' has a 'ch' sound in Indonesian.  Here are a few more: ekstrem, brosur, galas, sop, diskon.  That's extreme, broshure, glass, soup and discount.  Some are sooo obvious anyone will get them right off: taksi, servis, optik, kilnik, fotokopi and akupuntur. This is that I spend my time looking at from the back of a motorbike.  Now you all know much more Indonesian than you thought you ever would. Just remember there are still many signs that look like this that still require a translation:
courtesy of  Could the words be any longer?

            Unto the miscellany as promised.  I think the way Indonesians think of and refer to time often affects their work ethic.  (SIDE NOTE: I never promised or expected this blog to be politically correct or void of generalizations.  These are my thought sand musings.  I never use 'always' or 'never' in the strict senses of the word, so if I say I always eat fried rice with krupuk, that;s a generalization as I have obviously had it without krupuk before but usually, normally, or generally, I do have krupuk) Part of the ojek battle has to do with the work ethic.  Many people here are late, their work attire is tragic and no one seems to make a fuss.  I don't know why workers are always dressed so poorly.  A great example are women who work in banks or offices.  They wear skirts or pants and dress shirts but they are always poorly fitted, usually too tight and pulling at the buttons or hitched up in the wrong places.  This is in contrast to the office boys (I use boys not derogatorily.  Many are older men but' office boys' is the vernacular here).  They look like little boys wearing their older brother's clothes.   Ph, and women in their shoes!!  A woman could be dressed to the nines, but she'll wear sandals with heels and her toes will be half an inch over the front, curled over the edge of the shoe.

             On time here is fifteen minutes late, though if your excise is based on the weather or the traffic then you'll get a pass.  There really seems to be no emphasis or desire to work any harder than absolutely necessary.   When I asked my students at EF what their hobbies were, the majority will say sleeping.  Good luck to try and convince them that it's not a hobby.  The Indonesians on the street take it to a whole new level.  They seem to have the ability to fall asleep anywhere, at any time with no notice.  Ojek drivers at ojek stops (a corner in neighborhood where the ojeks hang out and you can pick one up) sleep before and between their rides. I find there are many things abroad I may never pick up as my own habit.

            Another note about differences.  In Jakarta the pollution is atrocious.  It's in the air from the growing industrial centers and the bajaj with old or no mufflers. The pollution in the water is a result of people using the water ways as garbage cans and toilets, mixed with anything that runs off in the rains and floods. But the pollution on land comes from a very simple, very obvious source. Walk down any street for more than two minutes and you'll see someone throw the wrapper from their snack on the ground.  There is no thought, no consideration of what else could be done with the empty plastic cup/chip bag/candy wrapper, practically all of it plastic. The trash piles up in corners, in gutters on street edges.  There are hardly any trash bins on the streets, but I still put my wrapper in my bag or my pocket and find one.  It's an interesting fact in contrast to the way some objects are used and reused.  There are tons of promotional banners, usually a tarp type material advertising a new drink or beverage.  These never go to waste and are re-purposed in many of the warungs (street side eating places, not mobile but very simple). I saw a push cart, maybe 3' x 6', used for hauling trash around with an wall sign from a building as the front wall of the cart.

             Clothes are repair and re-worn, then torn up and used for the material or for rags. It reminds me of the curbside "recycling" in Madrid.  If you have something of value (household items, clothes or furniture) that you don't want but is still viable for someone, put it on the curb at dusk.  99.398237 % of the time it will disappear before you leave for work in the morning. I like it, it means someone can reuse what I can't and it's easy. I also like how easy it is to find repair places here.  I was commenting to a friend yesterday as we picked her shoes up from being retipped.  In the US it may not be the cost that's prohibitive to getting shoes repaired, as it's finding a place to have it done. We in the West have become such a consumer society, that we automatically think to pitch it and buy new, not salvage what we have if we can.  I tend to think I reuse things more now than I did in the states.  That being said, I draw strange stares at the grocery store when I pull out my folded, material bags instead of getting the plastic ones here.

courtesey of
courtesy of

                With that in mind, I am consciously and conscientiously trying to move beyond the consumerism that is a plague on modern society. It's evident in Guatemala and Indonesia.  They look at the West, and associate wealth with the ability to buy things.  The malls here are all four stories or more high.  My students don't believe me when I tell them the malls that I know are one or two stories at most.  People here spend money on objects that others will see: a designer shirt with visible lables, i.e. Nike or Polo, new phones or mp3 players, cars.  That's money that could be used to relocate to a nice house or neighborhood, it could pay for education.  Those are not tangible objects in that there's no mass of people to see them and "oooh" about it.  I try to think about my purchases before I make them.  Is this something I need?  Can I live without it?  Will it be within the 100 pounds of stuff I am permitted to take when I fly out of Jakarta for the last time? Is it a gift?  I try to limit the purchases I make if the object doesn't fall in any of these criteria.  Instead I want to spend money on experiences such as travel, meals with friends and activities.  Then I have nothing to carry around, and I've made memories.


  1. So, finally I read it all and are up to date with you´re adventures.
    And I am glad you´re riding in pants, hopefully also trousers :D
    Some of the things you´ve been telling about adapt mildly to life in Spain, so it was probably good that you spent some years here first, like an adaptation period... The traffic is one of them, the creative roundabout driving is amasing in Spain, pass 3 on my 15 min ride to work, and Im astonished every day... but I guess you dont even have roundabouts in Indonesia ;)
    un beso,
    tu hermana española

  2. Hi, am Indonesian who live in Tacoma, WA, what you told especially about 'mall' things is true, the good thing I learn by living in the state, I respect my money more, I think before buying, I learn alot about total frugal, clip the coupons, well am a stay at-home mom, branded things still attempting me, but I really look at it first, do I really need that?is it in a good deal's nice blog, keep blogging!

  3. I think that learning Indonesian can be like a game. Read the word, say it out loud, now...what is it??? Loved it!