Category Archives: Indonesia

IMLAC Contact Details

OK, so I know that people are searching the internet for more information on learning Indonesian in Indonesia… and specifically the contact details of the language school IMLAC in Bandung. Well, here they are.

Email: mariaimlac@yahoo.co.id

Address: IMLAC, Jalan Gunung Agung No. 16, Bandung 40142, Jawa Barat, Indonesia

My advice is to contact Maria via email. She is the office manager and can help with visas, visa advice, schedules, costs etc. These are the contact details for the office in Bandung, but Maria can put you in touch with the other offices (eg Salatiga) if you need those details. Maria can speak English, so don’t worry about any language barrier. Note: These details were correct as of 2012, but IMLAC now has a website which might be more up to date.

A brief note on costs. You can get away with about 4,000,000 rupiah (US$440) per month per person when living here in Bandung and studying at IMLAC. That is the costs of visa, tuition, rent and food. You can probably do it slightly cheaper, most will spend more than that (mainly to eat at restaurants, hire a maid, do fun stuff, buy nice things).

Happy to field questions.

Learning Indonesian Progress Report – Culture

Before arriving in Bandung to learn Indonesian language, I knew that part of the course was going to deal with Indonesian culture and to be honest, I just wasn’t interested. Mainly because I already knew quite a bit about different customs and the ceremonies that the different ethnic groups like to undertake. The other thing was that I thought I could just pick up the nuances of the culture by living here. I thought the culture was the stuff that as outsiders we observe. The surface stuff. The ceremonies, the way people interact, the way people talk, the styles of people’s houses – the things we can see. But it’s much more complex than that.

After almost 2 months of learning Indonesian, learning about the culture and living in a kampung, I can honestly say that I could never have understood the subtlties of this culture on my own. It would be impossible. And I now feel for many of the expats living in Indonesia who are regularly frustrated by some of the little things in day-to-day life when dealing with Indonesians – it’s really all about cultural misunderstandings.

So what am I talking about? Well, I’m talking about understanding the way Indonesian people think and feel and how that impacts on the words they use, the way they use them and the body language that accompanies that. There’s an obsession with status in Indonesia that I never really understood before. But it’s complex. It’s not just about wanting to be at the top of the hierarchy. It’s also about being polite about it and not boasting about your wealth or social standing. There is a constant struggle to lower oneself to ensure that other don’t view you as being a snob.

It also goes for things like new clothes or shoes. If you complement someone on the new clothes, the person will be embarrassed and will say they’re cheap, not good or were on sale… anything to devalue them so that the person doesn’t appear to revel in having someone praise their wealth or social standing. It’s all very strange and very complex.

By the same token, even though you’re lowering yourself at every opportunity, it’s only on the surface. You really do try and move up the social ladder while acting as if you’re not and that it’s not important. So you might buy an ipad partly because it increases your status in the eyes of others, but you’ll try and say it’s rubbish and not that good knowing that it still makes you look richer and more important. I love it.

So why is this important? Well, if I want to be something other than just another white guy living in Indonesia that can throw around a few dozen Indonesian words, I need to fit in. I need to cocok. And I think it’s every person’s responsibility to cocok if you go and live in another country. In Australia when we see immigrants stick within their enclaves and fail to embrace the local culture, we castigate them — we discriminate against them. The same happens in Indonesia and I think it’s fair enough.

So this culture thing is all important. It can’t be learned from a book, it can’t be learned from the people. It has to be taught to you, you have to experience it and you have to be pulled up when you get it wrong. And that is something that is not likely to happen from an Indonesian person as it’s embarrassing to correct someone when they do something wrong. Especially a bule. Which is just another one of those cultural complexities.

Bali Photo Essay – Culture

So once upon a time, I got all enthusiastic about showing people some awesome Bali sights… And I did that by posting a few photo essays about People and Animals, Food and Beaches. But then I started a new adventure and events overtook the Bali one and here I am, with a bunch of Bali photos that need to see the light of day some 9 months after I took them.

So today I show to you Bali’s culture. Before visiting this small island which is a speck in the vast Indonesian archipelago, most people have visions of an exotic culture of bare breasted women carry offerings to temples, men tilling verdant ricefields and kids playing joyfully with archaic toys. Well, of course that’s fallacy, but a similar feeling can be experienced if you try hard enough – albeit of the more modern kind (ie no boobies).

Rice Offering
Rice Offering

So this is one of the small rice offerings put out by Balinese people at the start of each day from the rice they have cooked. A thanks to the gods for the food.

Rice Field Temple
Rice Field Temple

These “temples” are placed all throughout rice fields for purposes that are too complex for me to understand. Probably something to do with the rice goddess, Dewi Sri.  Needless to say, they are everywhere.

Pura Melanting
Pura Melanting

Pura Melanting is a large temple near the coastal town of Pemuteran in northwest Bali. When I was there, it was decorated coloufully and looked fabulous.

Balinese Penjor
Balinese Penjor

Penjors are used for a variety of reasons, but most tourists will see these around Galungan – a 10 day period of great importance to Balinese. Usually lots of pigs are slaughtered as well and made into lawar and sate. If you get a chance, eat the raw blood version of lawar – it is an experience.

Human Skulls at Trunyan
Human Skulls at Trunyan

Skulls are cool. Especially when they’re on a black flag and you ponce around with a peg leg and an eye patch. Better still, you can get up and personal in the village of Trunyan where local people don’t really bury their dead. Well not all of them anyway. Some of them just decompose above ground and the resultant skulls are placed on a wall for all to see. Cool!

Carved Temple Box
Carved Temple Box

Balinese have quite a few artistic specialities. They carve, they chisel, they weave and they paint. Sometimes all on the same piece. This temple box is similar to many you will see all around the island.

Balinese People Praying at Pura Lempuyang
Balinese People Praying at Pura Lempuyang

Finally, Balinese people pray. A lot. And it’s not uncommon to see scenes like this when you get out of the main tourist centres. The settings are usually unbelievably peaceful and the devotees completely focussed. Bliss.

So there you have it. Bali really does have culture in spades and many people fall in love with it. Wanna go to Bali?

 

 

Pangandaran, West Java

After taking care of a few housekeeping matters in Bandung, I decided to head off on a journey to some Javan destinations. The rough plan was to visit about 5 places in 10 days, but I ended up only visiting Pangandaran on the south coast and Yogyakarta in central Java which is more akin to my normal pace of travel.

Getting from Bandung to Pangandaran is easy. You simply find your way to the bus station in the centre of Bandung called stasiun hall and catch the number 1 city bus to Cicaheum. Buses to Pangandaran depart regularly and tickets for the 7 hour journey can be bought on the spot for about Rp35,000. It’s not a particularly pleasant journey because the condition of the road is poor, but the scenery in parts is stunning.

Beach

Pantai Pangandaran
Pantai Pangandaran

So the main reason you go to Pangandaran is for the beach. It’s a grey-looking thing lined with palm trees and it’s really quite picturesque despite the colour of the sand. Few foreigners make it to Pangandaran and you’ll be sharing the main portion of the beach with domestic tourists. Move west along the beach and it suddenly becomes barren and devoid of any human life whatsoever – perfect for a romantic walk along the beach (blergh).

It’s not very safe to swim at the beach due to the large waves and strong currents, but some people give it a go anyway. In the past 12 months, 11 people have drowned there and near-misses are daily occurrences. The lifeguards have a nice, shiny truck that they drive up and down the beach, but I didn’t see them get out of it let alone jump in the water. Maybe they can’t swim…

Whatever the case, the beach is a fantastic place to relax, people watch and surf (if you’re into that sort of thing).

Accommodation

There’s plenty of accommodation in Pangandaran and a basic room with cold water and a squat toilet will set you back around Rp70,000 per night. You can upgrade to an air conditioned room for about Rp100,000 per night. Most of these places cater to Westerners and are located at the far western end of town. The locals all stay in the centre of town and I reckon there’d be some decent cheap options there as well if the Western options are too expensive or not up to scratch.

Green Canyon

Green Canyon, Pangandaran
Green Canyon, Pangandaran

Around the Pangandaran area there are a few cool things to do. Well maybe one. A visit to Green Canyon is a must when visiting Pangandaran. It’s a small canyon with crystal clear turquoise-coloured water where you can hire a boat to take you up to a small swimming area. On the weekends, it’s extremely busy as I found out, but it is still a beatiful place even with the throngs clambering all over the rocks to watch their friends swim. Go here.

Batu Karas

Young Girls on the Beach
Young Girls on the Beach

Batu Karas is a surfing town that is less-heavily touristed than Pangandaran and it’s still relatively undeveloped. To be honest, it feels like a bit of a dump. But this will change as time passes and people invest money into the roads, warungs and seaside infrastructure. Apparently it’s a great place to surf and private lessons can be had for about Rp100,000 per day. I think I might partake in a bit of this later in the year when I’ve got a bit of spare time. Hopefully I can find some more redeeming qualities.

To keep you going, here are a couple of videos I took of Pangandaran and Green Canyon.

So that’s it. Another great tourist destination in Indonesia. If only infrastructure and marketing gave this place a chance. Want Indonesia?

Learning Indonesian Progress Report – Understanding Accents!

Today, for the first time, I realised that I recognise accents in Indonesia. You might think that it’s no big deal, but for me it’s important because it allows me to understand when someone says a word that sounds different to the way I learnt how to say it. Wha? Example.

Pakai. This is the verb people use for “to use” (which is not technically correct anyway!!!) I learnt to say the “ai” part like an American would say “I”. People in West Java say the “ai” like a Brit would say the “ey” bit in “hey”. Then the rest of Indonesia quite often speaks informally and just says “pake” with the “e” sounding like “e” in “egg”. That same principle applies across all the words with “ai” in them and then a range of other words that mean you have no idea what someone is saying, even though you’ve learnt the vocab!

So it’s important. And I have only just realised that I am naturally hearing the different variations in pronunciations without having to think about them. That is fantastic! Real progress.

Pantai or Pantay?
Pantai or Pantay?

The next problem I have to work out is when people are speaking in a mix of English and Indonesian. Most of the time I have absolutely no idea what they are saying when they use English words because I’m concentrating on each word trying to convert each Indonesian word into English in my mind… and then someone gets tricky and slips in an English word with an Indonesian accent. For me, it just sounds like an Indonesian word that I haven’t learnt yet! Pure hell! I reckon it’s better for people to just use one or the other, particularly if their English pronunciation is not quite up to scratch.

Which leads me to my last point — Given that I often have problems understanding Indonesians using English, it’s important for me to make sure my Indonesian pronunciation is spot on if I want to be understood by the vast majority of Indonesians. So I’ll continue to work on that…

What’s your experience with accents in foreign countries?

 

Arriving in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia

I arrived Bandung, West Java, a couple of weeks ago on a high from my enjoyable journey through Singapore and Malaysia. Well, the high actually wore off before I arrived in Bandung. Boarding the plane to Bandung, I was the only white person in line. I was unexpectedly unnerved! I was fidgeting and trying to quell it by slouching and acting cool. On the plane, when the announcements came on in English immediately after the Indonesian version, I imagined everyone was thinking “this is for the white guy”. Of course they weren’t (were they?), but I was becoming unsettled. Arrival at the airport in Bandung provided another unexpected challenge. I had to rely on my limited Bahasa Indonesia skills to negotiate my way through customs and immigration — there was no falling back onto English words when I didn’t know the Indonesian version — no safety net.


Things got worse when I entered the cab. The driver had zero English, it was 11pm and he didn’t know where my hotel was despite saying he did. He took me to Unik Hotel whereas I wanted to go to Unique Hostel. Simple mistake. So we were stuffed. We drove around aimlessly for about 20 minutes before I had a great idea. I’d been looking at Google Maps on my laptop before departing Malaysia and I still had the browser window open. So I fired up my laptop, amazingly zoomed into the address of the hotel and I was able to direct the driver there. It was stressful because the whole saga played out in Indonesian and I’d only just hit the ground.

I settled into the hotel and woke the next morning to a pretty ordinary breakfast. Bread, a sausage with some creamy, moussy stuff in the centre and some coffee. Of course I ate it. That day I walked the 7km up the hill to my language school and got a good sense of where it was in relation to the rest of the city. I also researched a few hotels along the way in case things didn’t work out at Unique Hostel.

The next day I tried to get a motorbike licence from the police station, but the intelligence guys who deal with foreigners told me it wasn’t possible. Likewise, it was impossible to get a post-paid sim card for my phone. I would have to stick with the entirely adequate pre-paid system. That same day I stumbled around some upmarket cafes and got a feel for where I would espcape to if the nasi goreng on the streets got too much.

By this stage, I was settling in and quite happy to take the next 10 days to travel around Java with the confidence that my return to Bandung would be easy. Or would it? Halo Halo Bandung!

Bali Photo Essay – Food

This is the third in a series of shameless posts with a lot of Bali photos. Click here for Bali BeachesPeople and Animals and Culture.

I love food. It really makes travelling much more interesting for me. Of course, not all foods I encounter on the road suit my palate, but when it does, I usually like to take photos. So here is a bit Bali food porn to get you salivating.

Nasi Campur
Nasi Campur

A favourite meal of many Indonesia is Nasi Campur. It literally means mixed rice – a plate of rice with an assortment of vegetarian dishes and if you’re lucky, one or two pieces of meat. A meal such as the one above can be had for about a dollar. Maybe a little more when you start to pile on meat.

Gorengan
Gorengan

This is gorengan. The word “goreng” means “fried”. And gorengan is simply an extension of that with a very general meaning of “fried stuff”. Most of these bite-sized morsels contain potato-like substances and are served cold. I can almost feel the fat stick to the roof of my mouth.

Gado Gado
Gado Gado

Gado gado is popular in tourist restaurants around Bali, but it is also a genuine Indonesian dish. It’s simply a bunch of vegetables mixed in a peanut sauce with a bit of soy. Something like this costs around the 50c mark at a local food stall, but isn’t enough food to satisfy fat Western appetites — so buy two.

Babi Guling
Babi Guling

Babi guling is a favourite meal at ceremonies in Bali. A whole pig such as this one will set back a village about $150, but will be shared between as many as 20 families. The pig is roasted with a bumbu (mixed spice paste) and then served in a variety different ways. Sometimes foreigners refer to babi guling as roast suckling pig, but Balinese more often than not use bigger pigs than those that are still suckling — there’s more meat on a big pig.

Breakfast at Grocer & Grind, Seminyak
Breakfast at Grocer & Grind, Seminyak

The local food in Bali is fantastic, but there is also a wonderful Western food scene. Grocer & Grind in Seminyak does the full range of Western food and good coffee as well. I like to go here for brunch…

Food defines many of my experiences in a country. Does it for you?

A New Chapter – Off to Java

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about Learning Indonesian in Java. Well, the days and weeks roll on and I’m on the cusp of departing Australia for an unknown period of time. On the 16th of June I’ll be boarding a plane to Melbourne where I’ll hang out for a few days catching up with old friends and eating some good food. Then on the 19th, I’ll be catching a flight to Singapore where I intend to give this city nation a second chance.

I first went to Singapore in 2009 and really didn’t like it. This time I’m heading to Singapore because that’s where I could get a cheap flight to. My first thought was to burn through there as quickly as possible, but I’ve thought about it a little more and this time I think I’ll stay 4 nights. I’ll walk as much as possible, try to find top eating, decent walking trails and basically do everything I didn’t do last time. If they had a mountain, I’d climb it — but they don’t. So eating and walking will have to do.

Avenue of Lanterns in Singapore
Avenue of Lanterns in Singapore

After Singapore, I’ll head to Kuala Lumpur by bus and then fly to Bandung in Java late in June. I’ll have a couple of weeks to kill in Java before my language course starts and I’ll probably use this time to nick up into the Dieng Plateau and see a few of the natural sites that this part of the island has to offer.

But more importantly than all of these tangible activities, this signifies the start of yet another chapter for me. A quite significant chapter ended for me last year when I headed off to Bali to research and write for travelfish. That was the culmination of a long-term relationship and the start of forging a new path on my own. On reflection, the chapter I have been living over the past 9 months has been transitionary and I met some great people and did some great things along the way such as a fantastic Australian roadtrip. But when I leave Australia this time, I don’t feel like I have a home to come back to (even more so than last time) and that gives me a sense that I may well be away for much longer than the 3 months that the language course will go for — and this means a new chapter is beginning right now.

People on a Mountain
People on a Mountain - One of the wonderful experiences from the last chapter

With that in mind, I look forward to exploring what comes next — hopefully it is filled with happiness, adventure and self-improvement. If I can share that with other like-minded people, that would be great too. Here’s to a new chapter.

Bali Photo Essay – People and Animals

This is the second in a series of shameless posts with a lot of Bali photos. Click here for Bali Beaches & Food!

I think I’m getting the hang of this photo essay thing. Easy! Just chuck up a few photos with a bit of commentary and you have yourself a blog post! Might have to do more of it. Anyway, this one is about people and animals in Bali. Why are both people and animals in the same post? Some might say that I’m seeking to draw the viewer into recognising the commonalities between humans and other animals and begging for there to be a greater understanding of the plight of animals in Indonesia which are often deprived of even the most basic living conditions. Others might just say I didn’t have enough photos to do two separate posts. I have no comment.

 

Important Balinese Man
Important Balinese Man

I was inspecting a hotel near Lake Tamblingan when a man in the distance was motioning for me to come over. It was a little awkward, but he had the most glorious smile, warm spirit and wanted to shake my hand forever. We had a little chat in Indonesian and he then wanted me to take his photo. After snapping a few shots, I showed him the results and he thanked me profusely. Of course I felt humbled by the kindness of one of the most incredible spirits I’ve ever met.

Sad Monkey For Sale
Sad Monkey For Sale

 

Photography experts often talk about how people’s eyes are what make or break a portrait photo. Judging by this photo, the same can be said for all primates. This monkey was chained at an animal market in Denpasar and gave an incredible look of sorrow.

 

Fisherman in Pemuteran
Fisherman in Pemuteran

We can talk about warm spirits all we like, but it means nothing until you experience it. In Bali, there are many of these warm spirits – I met this man after he just hauled in a bunch of fish for his family from the local reef in Pemuteran. He was very humble, gracious and a little bit bemused as to why I would care to look at his fish!

 

 

Fresh Fish in Jimbaran
Fresh Fish in Jimbaran

Bali is overfished – to the point where protected reefs are now the target of fishermen in a bid to keep up with ever-increasing demand. To be fair to Bali, large portions of Indonesia are overfished and waters outside those of Indonesia’s own are now the target of fishermen. The array of fish on display at the fresh fish market in Jimbaran is bewildering and a great reminder that the fish you have for dinner may well have been a spectacular juvenile reef fish caught illegally.

 

 

Young Boys in Rural Bali
Young Boys in Rural Bali

These young boys were running amok as young boys normally do. Except in Bali, the world is your oyster with the freedom to roam around and get up to mischief without fear of speeding cars, the stranger next door or an overly critical community. These boys puffed out their chests when they saw my camera and galloped away to continue their reign of terror in no time at all.

 

 

Baby Monkey with its Mother
Baby Monkey with its Mother

Baby monkeys also have much freedom from an early age although their mothers keep a protective eye out for them at all times. It’s not unusual for a baby monkey to scratch around in the bushes while a dozen metres away its mother snacks on bananas stolen from panicked tourists. A great place to spot this sort of behaviour is the Ubud Monkey Forest, although it can be heavily touristed in the middle of the day. The Monkey Forest at Sangeh is also a spectacular setting for primate observation.

 

 

Ploughing the Rice Field with a Cow
Ploughing the Rice Field with a Cow

Man and beast work together to plough the fields near a guesthouse 7km from Amlapura. Many Balinese farmers still use old-fashioned techniques to plough their fields despite the explosion in motorised transport over the past two decades. Preparing a ricefield for planting is a multi-stage process that has not changed significantly over hundreds of years. Scenes like this are played out across the island and outside of the main tourist towns, it’s possible to have a room with views of glorious terraced ricefields such as this one.

 

 

Duck in Rice Field
Duck in Rice Field

An important aspect of preparing a ricefield for planting is allowing hundreds of ducks to forage in the muddy field for spilled rice and unwanted insects. During the process, ducks also add nutrients to the soil which is then mixed through during the ploughing process. I saw this duck chasing its friends across the sprawling fields immediately north of Ubud at the end of Jalan Kajeng – my favourite place to walk in Ubud.

 

 

Monkey on the Beach in Pemuteran
Monkey on the Beach in Pemuteran

These is no human counterpoint to this photo – this animal is pure evil. I think monkeys are cute, but they’re mischievous little critters that are entirely unpredictable. This particular cutie was fossicking in the shallows when I thought it’d be a splendid idea to take a few shots. Maybe I should have asked for permission first, but it took exception to the candid shots I was taking and charged me, teeth all over the place.

 

What a fantastic place Bali is. Ever been? Going soon? Want to go? Do you need more convincing?

Learning Indonesian in Java

Those that have read my blog in the past will have gotten a sense that I love one country over and above all others. It’s a strange love affair I have with Indonesia that even I don’t understand, despite the interludes being frequent and varied. Next month I will once again visit my beloved with a mission to learn a bit more about her.

I can already speak Bahasa Indonesia, the single unifying language of a country that has more than 700 active languages and which is spoken by more more than 200 million people. I currently speak at a level that allows me to go to the markets and buy whatever I need, ask where buses are going to or coming from and discuss the generalities of daily life. But I want more. I know my language skills are deficient when I hear news reports or two friends speaking to each other, only picking up the odd word or two – most of the time I have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. And this probably means that I’m only able to communicate with people because they are speaking slowly and simply so I can understand.

Brooding Gunung Merapi, East Java
Brooding Gunung Merapi, East Java

So I’ve been in contact with a school in the Javan city of Bandung called IMLAC. It’s a Christian school used by missionaries before they head off around the country to do their work. For me, it’ll be about the language aspect and I hope to advance from a basic speaker to a fluent speaker. Bandung is a city located in the hills about 2 hours from Jakarta. A friend of mine lived there for 18months and raved about both the school and the city and ever since I’ve thought about actually doing it myself – and now I am. The plan is for 3 months of full time study and I hope to get myself a nice little house in what the Indonesians would call the kampung – the village.

Muslim Girl
Muslim Girl

At some stage I’d love to learn some other Indonesian languages such as Javanese, Sundanese and Balinese. A staggering 80+ million people speak Javanese. True. That’s probably got something to do with over 130 million (!!!) people living in Java. They pack em in, but still you can find solitude. I can’t wait.

Oh yeah, I want to climb a few volcanoes there as well. Anyone with hot tips for Java?