Six months I have spent teaching English at Islamic school in Cilegon, Banten, Indonesia. During this time I lived in a conservative industrial city where tourists never come. I learned how to live as a local, buy fruits and vegetables on the market, use moto taxi (ojek) and speak basic Bahasa. This article is not about Bali, it is about real Indonesia which I love, and I am going to tell you why.
Indonesians are one of most cheerful and helpful nations in the world. So many times unknown people helped me on the street, giving a ride back home or assisting in a hard situation. I remember when me and my friend came out from the supermarket with full bags of groceries and wanted to walk back home, but suddenly a young Indonesian woman stopped us: “Hello, my name is Della. I always see you two walking in this area. Let me drop you home”. Hardly can I imagine similar situation in my country. I can tell hundreds more stories about a woman who stopped her car to drop me home when I was coming back from my aerobics classes, or about old woman who didn’t know even one English word, but brought me to the hospital when a hard red fruit fell down on my head from the palm tree and I was bleeding like a fountain. This friendly environment gives a feeling of overall safety – whenever you go you know you may ask for help and get it. But it is not only about willingness to help, every day Indonesians, friends or just unknown people on the street, will give you hundreds of smiles which definitely gonna melt your heart. I remember that I used to go to mini market next to my house 3-4 times a day just to see a smile of a girl at the cash desk. She was just a cashier, but she was so delightful that simply looking at her I learn to enjoy every single moment of my life.
2. Public Holidays
As you know, in Indonesia I was working as a Teacher at school. I was shocked with the number of Public Holidays they have. Approximately every second week I had an extra day off: Idul Adha, Islamic New Year, Indonesian National Armed Forces Day, Day of Birth of the prophet Muhammed, Christmas, New Year, Chinese New Year, Balinese New Year, Day of Birth of Buddha, Idul Fitri, Independence Day and many others. On these days, in most of the cases before and after the holidays, children are coming to school wearing not their usual uniform, but most festive clothes they have. Teachers, parents and kids celebrate it together at school. During Idul Adha one cow and three goat were sacrificed directly on a school yard. It was a shocking experience for me, but I deeply respect local customs and traditions.
Every Public Holiday in Indonesia was my personal holiday as I tried to make the best use of all my days off for traveling. I remember how much fun was to take a ferry cruise to Sumatra in the middle of a working week. That Wednesday Indonesians were celebrating Islamic New Year.
3. Snorkeling and Diving Spots
I have never tried snorkeling before I came to Indonesia and I will never forget the feeling when my mask touched the surface of the sea for the first time. It seemed like I look at the big screen showing me a new and absolutely thrilling world of under sea life.
Insatiably I was swimming back and forth trying to discover as much fishes, coral reefs and anything else that is hidden under the water. First time I tried snorkeling near Sanghyang Island in Banten Province, second – near Karimun Jawa Island. Everytime I was deeply impressed by the beauty of the under sea world. I don’t claim to be a good advisor on the best snorkeling and diving spots in Indonesia. My aim here is to persuade you that you can not leave this country without undersea experience.
“Orangutan” means “a forest human” in Indonesian and now I know why. First time I had a chance to communicate with a baby-orangutan in Taman Safari Bogor. Before I had some negative experience with monkeys in India and I didn’t want to come too close first, but my friend insisted that we should do that. In Taman Safari Bogor there is a so called “Baby zoo” where you can take a picture with one or more baby-animals. My friend wanted a picture with a little orangutan and I decided to have one too. It costs only 25 000 Indonesian rupees (less than $2), but the experience you get instead is absolutely invaluable. My friend went first and she was so touched by this little orangutan that she couldn’t stop laughing. He behaved just like a human baby, so I better call him by name – Arjuna. I made hundreds of pictures with him and my friend and each of them looked like a picture of a happy family from family album. When my turn came, I sat next to Arjuna and he grabbed my hand so softly and trustfully that I still remember the texture of his hand’s skin. He looked at me as a wise person, played with me as a baby and sat on my knees trying to make himself most comfortable. I understand, Arjuna is not a wide animal, he used to stay among people. Not every orangutan will behave with human like Arjuna, but I think it represents orangutans’ nature, the way they treat each other, or someone who is friendly with them. Orangutans are endangered now and there are several National Parks on Borneo (Kalimantan) and Sumatra Islands in Indonesia where they are preserved. I wish you do not miss a chance to get acquainted with at least one orangutan and fell in love with them forever like I did.
I have a friend who used to live in Indonesia for 10 years. When I asked him what he missed most of all, he said: “Grilled fish”. This is food recommendation #1 for your stay anywhere at the sea sight in Indonesia. It is usually served with white rice and delicious soy chili sauce. When I talk about Indonesian food, first of all I think about the variety of fresh fruits and vegetables available throughout the year. In every tiny cafe you will find a choice of at least 8 fresh squeezed juices: mango, papaya, watermelon, melon, avocado, starfruit, orange, and soursop. If you want to try all the fruits at one time, you may try a fruit salad “Sop buah” with condensed milk and ice (ask for little ice and milk).
Most famous Indonesian food is fried rice, “nasi goreng”. I like “nasi goreng”, but extensive use of taste enhancers in it made me switch to “nasi putih”, white rice. For me best food is simple food, like white rise with kangkung. Kangkung is a grass which I never seen outside Indonesia, sometimes it is called “water spinach”. “Gado-gado” is an alternative to kangkung, it is a mix of steamed vegetables with fried tofu and peanut sauce. Also, tempe – fermented soybeans – is another perfect match with white rice.
I don’t know what primary expectations about Indonesia you have, but this country will never disappoint you. Believe me, Indonesia will leave a deep scar on your heart, making you want to come back again and again.