Culture Shock: Bahasa Indonesia and Me

The flight to Jakarta from Tokyo was interesting. It was my first real experience of being somewhere where my language wasn’t the primary language spoken. When the flight attendants made their announcements, they did so in Japanese first, and then English. Not so bad, right? It was really interesting. I thought I was prepared for Indonesia.

Novriska (Vriz) picked Sam and I up from the Surabaya airport. Earlier before our flight, Sam said that Vriz’s parent’s might be with her and riding back with us. I was totally cool with that! I just told Sam that I might not be very social because I was so exhausted.

I met Vriz! We exchanged an awkward high five (we are both apparently shy and awkward), and went over to her car, where her parents were standing. They immediately started speaking Indonesian to Sam and Vriz and me! Sam introduced me and we shook hands and they helped me load my luggage into the car. Vriz’s parents, Mr. Joko (Pak Joko) and Mrs. Tri (Bu Menik), sat in the back with Sam, and I rode shotgun next to Vriz. I have never traveled to a place where the drivers seat was on the right side! It felt very strange. I was worried that I would be feeling nervous the entire drive, because it looked like we were on the wrong side of the road… but on that drive, that was not the thing that made me nervous…

Only people who have been to Indonesia or India or somewhere similar, can understand how absolutely chaotic the roads are. When we first started off, we were on a two lane road and were pretty much the only car on the road at the time. Vriz was driving and I noticed immediately that she was kind of drifting between lanes and riding in the center and just seemed to not care about the lines. I just thought oh, it doesn’t really matter, we are the only car on the road.. but not for long!

Another car joined us and Vriz moved into the right hand lane and the car passed. Totally normal, and Vriz resumed her crazy lane changing. Then, we got onto a highway where there was a good amount of traffic. This is when it got a little crazy. There are basically no traffic laws in Indonesia. Everyone just kind of does whatever the f*** they want! Cars were going off the side of the road to pass, motorcycles were weaving in and out of traffic, it was crazy!! There aren’t really speed limit signs and there are very few stop lights and absolutely no stop signs to be seen. 4 way stops, intersections, major corners, everyone just kind of does there own thing. But, it works! Turns out no one wants to die in a car accident or motorcycle wreck, so everyone just kind of ebbs and flows together. There is even a totally different culture around honking here. Drivers focus mainly on what is in front of them, because of all of the motorcycles, that they don’t really check their blindspots. So, a little ‘toot’, when cars are changing lanes or passing on the right, into oncoming traffic… or if someone gets to close, or someone is trying to do something and the other person is just like nahhhh. It’s not an aggressive or a mean honk, like the ‘f-you’ honk in the US. It’s more like a ‘here I am’ kind of thing. A few pictures from the drive will be below 🙂

Now the real fun of the car ride: Indonesian!! Bu Menik, Pak Joko, Sam and Vriz were just chatting away! The language is so different and very cool to hear. It is especially cool to hear Sam speak it so quickly and fluently. I’ve heard her speak before, but never in this context. It is hard to explain how it feels to be in a car with 4 people and not be able to communicate with them, or understand a single thing that is going on. Sam was great, listening and translating, but the conversation was moving so quickly that she couldn’t translate and talk at the same time and I missed probably 80% of the conversation or more. The first thing that Bu Menik said when we got in the car was ‘Biiiiiiggg badan’. Any guesses on what this means? Anyone? Let me tell you, she took one look at me and said biggg body! (Insert laughing emoji here). It is totally harmless and just an observation. And it’s true! In Indonesia, everyone is pretty small in height and weight! It is uncommon to see someone that is so much bigger than they are. And I totally have a big body. It was very funny. The conversation flowed so quickly. I would occasionally be asked a question, but was so distracted by my surroundings that it took Sam a couple of tries to get my attention. I would answer and Sam would translate. Sometimes, Bu Menik would ask me a question half in English and half in Indonesian. It was really hard for me to tell when she was talking to me! I was very nervous about seeming rude, and tried to stay alert, but there was so much going on and my brain was overloading with visual, tactile (it was hotttt) and auditory stimuli.

I really am having a hard time putting in to words how the car ride felt. And honestly, it was two days ago and I was so exhausted that its kind of a blur. But the best comparison I can think of, is to when I was little and I would be around my mom and her friends. Most of the time I had no idea what they were talking about, and was just so oblivious to what was going on. It kind of feels like that, except everyone is speaking a different language. I felt like a child, not in a bad way, but just kind of deer in the headlights kind of way.

Vriz’s parents are very nice and it was great to see so much on the drive!! Indonesia is truly a beautiful, magnificent place!

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One thought on “Culture Shock: Bahasa Indonesia and Me

  1. Thank you for saying that Indonesia is beautiful, and sorry for my crazy driving. My driving was actually so good since my parents were with us in the car. It just different drive. Hahahahaa… Loking forward to drive you more!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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