Shit I Learned In Indonesia

OK, so for any of you who know me personally, you would know that last time I was travelling I used to put a weekly post up on my Facebook called ‘Shit I Learned This Week’. It was a combination of funny and serious facts that I learned along the way that I wanted to share with people. As ordinary life and the monotony of working and then going to the gym set back in, I got lazy and let it slide as it became harder to come up with creative things I had learned. However, back by popular demand on my Facebook page Thomas Takes On… (chuck us a ‘like’ to keep in the loop) is “Shit I Learned This Week” and as a part of this continuing tradition, I shall reinstate it with a special post about “Shit I Learned In Indonesia”.

Shit I Learned In Indonesia
Useful Indonesian Words
  • Doso (doh-zoh) – “high five” useful for saying hi to or scaring small children. Some will laugh and slap your hand, other will scream and run yelling “monster, monster!” in the other direction.
  • Kontol besar (con-tol be-sar) – “big penis”. Men down the street will occasionally tell you that they have one of these for you. You shouldn’t believe them. They don’t really.
  • Capek (cha-pey) – “tired”. Even when you use this word it still won’t prevent police officers waking you up on the train just so they can say hello to you because they want to practice their English. And here I thought I was getting woken up because I am doing something wrong…..
  • Bule (boo-lay) – “white person/foreigner”. The word most commonly shouted when both adults and children alike see you and start pointing at you as if you are a crazy anomaly in society. It will usually be accompanied with the word “foto”.
  • Foto (foh-toh) – “photo”. Avoid this word at all costs. It will mean that you will spend an hour standing on the side of the road while locals take pictures with you and of you like you are some kind of celebrity. Then if you say no, they will still follow you and take pictures of you while you are not looking. Akin to Kim Kardashian, you are famous for doing absolutely nothing.
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My blonde friend getting swarmed by a kazillion Indonesian people and their phones saying ‘foto? foto?’

  • Ayo (aye-yoh) – “lets go!” Useful for getting a boot up peoples butts and to get moving.
  • Tidak (tee-dah) – “no”. Despite being a word in the Indonesian language, this word seems not only to be ignored, but magically most of the time translated into the word “yes”.
  • Kamu cantik (cam-oo chan-tee) – “you’re gorgeous/beautiful”. Frequently used by local men when you walk past them down the street or are sitting on the back seat of buses as their opening line to chat you up. Usually it is followed up by the question “you marry?” to which the appropriate answer is always “yes”.
  • Mas (maas) – “bro”. The men here will usually say ‘hallo mas!’ or ‘terima kasih mas’. I need to remember that while ‘mas’ in spanish means ‘more’, that I am saying ‘thanks bro’ in Indonesia instead of ‘thank you very much’. Especially when I am talking to a woman and she looks at me confused as I just called her ‘bro’.
  • Coca Cola Batik (koh-kah koh-lah bah-tik) – “Fake art work from Yogyakarta”. The local style of art, ‘batik’, involves covering material with a wax and then dying the bits left over. If it is real they say you can wash and iron it to keep it good. Sometimes locals will lie to you and sell you the fake stuff that the dye runs from when you wash it. I am not sure what Coca Cola has to do with this….
My real batik art, not the Coca Cola crap 🙂

Culture and People
  • If you ask how far or how long something is, do not expect an accurate answer. Concepts of time and distance are pretty much non-existent in Indonesia.
  • Everybody smiles. They can be happy, mad, angry, sad… any array on the emotional spectrum and it will always be delivered with a smile. As such, when angry the best way to deal with things is to smile and be polite. Passive aggression will get you everywhere.
  • On top of smiles is the laughing. People are always laughing in Indonesia and the laughter is often infectious. Sometimes a local will be so amused by something that you do that it almost difficult to not laugh back at them as they are so funny when they are being funny,
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This guy laughed at us and called my friend a ‘bludger’ despite not knowing what it meant and kept laughing for half an hour while we waited for the bus to Borobudur

  • Indonesians do not walk anywhere if they can help it. They will always take their motorbike. Even if it is 50m down the road, the will still go on “moto”.
  • Fat is a compliment. “Hey girl, you fat!” = hey, you have money and eat lots and are super healthy. I wish it was like this in Australia….
  • Say one thing. Mean another. Do another entirely. This is how we wind up having our passport in immigration for 16 days and not being notified of meetings. Then they tell you they have transport to immigration. Then they don’t. Then they do but you need your own helmet. Then they do again. And then they drive you to immigration and leave you on the side of the road there in the middle of nowhere because apparently transport to immigration does not mean transport home. This is also how you wind up homeless on New Years Eve as a ‘booking’ apparently can be given away if somebody with money comes in first and you aren’t there. Always be prepared for the unexpected. Always have your A game problem solving skills cap on or you will wind up in a pool of your own tears. Oh and laugh. Because what more can you do?
Passed out on the hostel floor on a pile of my junk over new years trying to have an afternoon nap and failing dismally

  • Indonesians have to be the friendliest people ever. I am trying to eat my bowl of bakso on the side of the road and a family invite me into their home to sit at their table to eat it and play with their kids… two hours later I am making my way out the door.
Politics and Religion
  • You will get woken up everyday to the sound of random warblings of Islamic prayer broadcast over giant speakers to the entire community. Earplugs required.
  • In Bali, one needs to constantly watch where they walk because not only will the gods be angry if you step on one of the offerings they lay out, but you will also wind up with massive soy sauce explosions up your leg.
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Some Hindu offerings… no soy sauce this time, just some tasty biscuits and flowers.

  • Soekarno was the first President of Indonesia and was responsible for their independence as a country in 1945.
  • Indonesians will approach you and start listing religions and ask you which one you are. “I have no religion” is never met with a good response, usually anger or confusion. I later learned that according to the “Pancasila” (translated in Javanese to mean “five principles”), which was the document used to found the country of Indonesia and unite all of the islands, the number one legal requirement on this list of all Indonesians is “belief in the one and only God”. What this means…. 1. It is illegal to not have a religion in Indonesia. 2. You are only allowed to follow a religion that is monotheistic. The Balinese made a few adaptations to allow Shiva to be their almighty God allowing Hinduism to be a part of the list of only 6 religions allowed in Indonesia including Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, Catholicism or Protestantism. No allowances were made for other religions such as Judaism, Sikhism or any of the spiritual beliefs of the smaller tribes from the more secluded islands that form Indonesia. Sounds scarily like discrimination to me……
Other Indonesian Learnings
  • “Hallo Mister!” is a common greeting from all people here. Their addresses to each other are unisex, so I always get ‘mister’. I exhaust myself trying to explain that I am a ‘miss’ because I am a woman. The last English lesson I gave was to a group of 7 kids of 8-10 years old cutting school and smoking cigarettes on top of the hill overlooking the Telarga Warna. They followed me down the hill screaming at me “Miss! Miss!” Well at least they learned something….
  • Bed bugs. After getting them twice in Java I am now a total expert in anything bed bug related. The Indonesian word for bed bug is ‘kutu busuk‘ and I am ‘alergi‘ or allergic to them. I know about hunting them, their life cycle, how to get rid of them and even that if you isolate and tape the bed they will climb the walls and drop on you from the ceiling to get at you and your tasty blood. Ugh, I am creeped out thinking about it and haven’t slept in a month.
  • Fried chicken here rivals that of Colonel Sanders (KFC) an is way cheaper… between these and cheap Magnum Gold’s I will wind up the size of a house and require rehab after Indonesia to deal with my withdrawals.
Yet another evening on the Magnum Golds… had to find another shop because we cleared the first one out.

  • I am ‘seexxxaaayyyy’ according to a 60 yo local woman on the bus to Wonosobo and this is apparently hilarious to everyone else on the bus.

And I think that shall be it! For the weekly versions (much shorter I promise) tune in to Facebook and I shall be back next week with more challenge and adventure (Si bolang!) Until then 🙂

The Marvellous Men Of Kawah Ijen

As an avid lover of all things volcano, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go and visit Kawah Ijen in the far eastern part of Java, Indonesia. The volcano is most famous for its massive sulfur deposits that the locals harvest for use in cosmetics and other things.

So the wake-up call came at 1am and we were scurried into the back of a car and driven for about an hour to the base of Kawah Ijen. The fact that we even made it to the base is a miracle given our drivers’ penchant for overtaking people on windy roads at high speed into oncoming traffic. I am pretty sure he almost rolled the vehicle about five times. Anyway, survived…. and arrived!

We started the 3km hike to the crater rim of Kawah Ijen and had a local guy following us. Despite telling him we didn’t want a guide, he took it upon himself to walk with us for the entire way up the winding switchbacks of the hill. He would tell us things in broken English or Bahasa Indonesian on his way and point things out to us. When we started getting into high sulfur concentration areas he helped me wet down my t-shirt and tie it around my mouth so I could breathe easier. At this point I had taken a liking to him and I didn’t care if he had just dubbed himself our guide. He was cool and very helpful. I was happy to pay him anyway.

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An attractive look. Wet t-shirt around the mouth to stop the inhalation of sulfur dioxide.

So when we got to the crater rim, then began the perilous descent into the crater rim down to where they harvest the sulfur and to the lake. It was steep and hairy trip down in the dark stopped at times by massive coughing fits from the excess inhalation of sulfur dioxide in the air literally choking your lungs. When we arrived just below the clouds I saw a glimpse of the magical blue flame that they talk about seeing in the crater. And as we continued downwards we arrived on the flat to where there were a whole bunch of men working to collect the sulfur to cart back up the hill.

The crater in the dark was like a crazy world. In among the smoke there were bright patches of yellow dripping down from the hills out of these rusted out metal barrels. The men were taking giant metal crowbars to the solidified sulfur deposits to break them down into smaller pieces that would fit into their baskets so they could carry them.

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Breaking down the solid sulfur into transportable chunks.

When asking them how much was in each of the baskets they told us that they were carrying anywhere between 60 and 80 kilograms back up the hill and then another 3 kilometers down the other side to the weighing station. They get paid 900 Indonesian Rupiah per kilo for this. So on average he said he made about $15 Australian dollars or 10 Euro in a day by the time they do 2 trips up and down the mountain.

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What a 8 AUD or 5 Euro payload looks like.

My brain nearly exploded at this information. This was grueling work. Work that I would probably be incapable of. In fact, I deadlifted one of the baskets like I used to at crossfit training and while I can still pick it up, I could not do much more with it. The men were showing us their scars on their shoulders from where the bamboo baskets were cutting into their skin over the years and laughing about it. I think if I had this job I would want to cry. And yet here they are, the marvelous men of Kawah Ijen laughing about what they do for work and posing to take pictures with us flexing their muscles, sometimes with others photo-bombing in the background just to be even more funny.

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My favourite miner… he took his shirt off to do some funny poses for us

As the sun started to come up properly I started to take stock of the barren wasteland that surrounded me. There was a lake quite close to the sulfur deposits and according to the internet the pH of this lake is 0.5. Mind blown…. for any chemist out there you will know that this means that it is pretty much a lake of a bit less than 1M sulfuric acid (I am a self confessed chemistry nerd). It is the most acidic lake in the world and has this incredibly light blue haze to it that gives it a nice aura around the yellow and grey colours from the sulfur and the rest of the mountain.

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The acid lake with the sulfur deposits on the shoreline

The sulfur became more yellow as the sun came up and the extent of how far you could see it expanded across the landscape. It was like being on the moon and yet not. I sat for quite a while taking it in and watching the men carry their bamboo baskets up the hill before it was time to start climbing back up ourselves.

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Time to start climbing.

We climbed at rapid pace compared to the workers with their baskets. Even as we passed them, they continued to laugh and ask for photos with us and smile. They are incredible people that I have such amazing respect for. Before I knew it I was back to the top and on my way back down the hill among all of the greenery and foggy haze that I couldn’t see at 2am when I was on my way up the hill. It was like visiting the sulfurous and barren wasteland of Kawah Ijen was a dream. And yet here I was with the marvelous men and their baskets full of sulfur as a reminder sitting at the base of the mountain and with a bucket load of photos to always remember them by.

The Sex and Drugs Culture: 7 Challenges for Today’s Society

Just imagine if you had amazing sex and actually remembered it! A novel concept in our society when the outcome of what is perceived as being a ‘good night’ is becoming as intoxicated as possible to the point where you don’t even remember what you did the next day and waking up next to a person you look at and go “oh seriously? Ewww!” but hey “that was like so funny, what an awesome night!!”

Call me boring, call me a prude, call me old even, but whatever. I don’t see how in any sense of the word waking up feeling like shit in the morning every day next to somebody you don’t know or like equates to ‘a good time’. I currently sit here in Bali, Indonesia as the only sober entity in the place ready to punch said men that walk in and assume that 1. I am wasted, and as such 2. I am theirs so they can feel free to put their hands on my arse, hips or whatever other part of my body they feel like because ‘like, it is just cool man, it is what people do’. It is like people expect a free pass under the excuse of drunkenness for all manners of poor behaviour and I for one right now am not standing for it.

Where has the respect gone? Since when did we start treating our own bodies so disrespectfully all of the time by constantly pumping them full of toxins for a quick good time and handing our bodies over to just anyone we meet for the hell of it because that is just the done thing these days. You can plough as many fields as you like but it is just a whole lot of hard work for a crappy harvest most of the time, something I just can’t be bothered dealing with anymore. It is not an act that builds or fortifies self esteem. It is not an act that demonstrates self respect.

Furthermore, I have sat and watched both guys and girls make the rounds of an entire group of people of the opposite sex in an attempt to figure out what their options are and who is most up for it. I am sorry, but in any language that screams to me ‘I am desperate for someone to validate me as I have no self esteem’.

So as I sit here, I contemplate this and challenge people in our current hook up society to have a go at the following:

1. Try actually getting to know a person before you decide you are going to just hop right in to the sack with them, you might actually discover that you ‘like’ the person instead of just what they look like or better still, what you think they look like because you are too off your face to actually see them.

2. Respect yourself enough to decide that not anybody will do. If they clearly don’t respect you, then what is the point? Time to respect yourself more.

3. Go out for one or two, get a bit tipsy, drink some water, have a multivitamin and wake up the next day feeling awesome instead of thinking that the more you consume the cooler you are and thus the more awesome your night is. Oh and that the worse your hangover is = the better your so called night you can’t remember last night. In my world, that = dumb.

4. The bigger your ‘number’ doesn’t equate to how awesome you are.

5. Find other ways of dealing with stress and emotional issues other than excessive drinking, smoking and drug abuse as these are both a great way to an early grave.

6. Try letting yourself get emotionally attached for a change instead of running scared of every person you might actually like in exchange for the next random hook up. You might even discover that the sex gets better than all the rest of the sex you are having with random strangers that don’t know your needs. Oh and you might discover the joys of actually having somebody to share things with other than a drink and a box of condoms.

7. Don’t do things because society tells you that it is cool. Have a brain, think for yourself. Do what makes you feel good and not what other people tell you is cool.

End Rant. I am off to sit somewhere in the world that is quiet and where people’s conversations don’t consist of getting smashed and bagging bitches.


“I’m On A Boat!” – Four Days of Sailing Through Indonesia

As a right of passage heading east across Indonesia it seems, there are a few ways that you can get there. You can fly. You can take the overland bus for 3 days. Or you can be all ‘bad ass’ and get on a boat. Being the ‘bad ass’ that I am, I chose to go boating… drugged to the eyeballs on anti seasickness tablets and antibiotics from my recurrent tonsillitis of course, just in case I didn’t want to know where it was that I actually was.

Bec and I got picked up in Sengiggi and transported down to Bangsal to wait for the boat. More and more of the people that were to be sailing with us started arriving too and it looked like there were going to be about 16 of us. Eventually they ferried us off down the road to get us started sailing. We thought we were going to be cool like the boys from the Lonely Island, but alas it was not to be….

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Hardly a pimping boat… but it was home nonetheless

One of the boys dubbed it ‘the floating prison’ because it didn’t look like much. And as much as the others moaned and complained, I didn’t really feel that bad about it. That and the captain and his men are super proud of their boat I am sure and it would be impolite to say offensive things about it given their pride.

So all aboard. And onwards we sailed. The first day was not too much. We kept on for six hours before we stopped off the northern coast of Lombok for a swim. During this time most people sat out on the front of the boat and played the ‘get to know you’ game. Lunch was served and was quite good actually. A lot of traditional foods and quite hefty serving sizes too.

The first night we spent sailing through the night asleep upstairs on the plastic mattresses crammed next to each other on the top level of the boat. Given my excessive school teacher preparedness, I pulled out my mosquito net and my sleep sheet and laid those out for some extra comfort and protection against the mosquitoes. I slept quite well considering.

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Stunning snorkelling of the northern coast of Surabaya

The second day was to see even more sailing and some more swimming and snorkeling. We stopped off at a beach in the morning to go for a walk around and explore some of the coral reef around the area with the snorkel. We also stopped off at a waterfall which we hiked to and sat around in. It was just beautiful and you could sit in a pool at the bottom of it and relax.

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The waterfalls on Moyo Island, Indonesia

More sailing through the night and this puts us towards the more interesting areas of the sail and what we came for. Day three. The first part of the day was spent around Manta Point hunting for the manta rays to swim with. There were about twenty of them and they were so incredible and majestic as they floated through the ocean. At some points they came to the surface and flapped their sides to make waves before heading back under the surface. Incredible animals.

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A manta ray just chilling below me in the big, wide ocean.

Speaking of incredible animals, the afternoon was spent on Komodo Island trekking around. The thing that I came here for. After all of my time spent watching David Attenborough documentaries on the venomous spit ridden horrors, I had to go and see them. There was no option. Excitedly we started on the long walk around the island and it took us maybe ten minutes before we spotted our first one. I managed to get my picture taken with it from about a meter behind the tail. Quite daring considering what I have seen of them and understand of them. Some of the other people didn’t seem bothered with this at all and were getting way too close that it scared me. But we all wound up safe.

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My first dragon! Isn’t he beautiful!

We saw a few more dragons around the island just chilling out and a baby one going for a walk about before we got back on the boat. The last night on board was to be spent floating in a cove instead of driving so we could all get a decent sleep after what was to be the ‘party’. An uneventful session of drinking that lead me to call it a night and get some rest.

The last day was visiting Rinca Island to see some more komodo dragons. The views over the island were spectacular and we saw more dragons here than we did on Komodo Island. It really is an incredible place and looks so barren compared to the islands of Lombok and Sumbawa that we sailed past along the way to get here.

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The barren landscapes of Rinca Island

We stopped also at a pink beach along the way. There are not many of these in existence, made pink by the crushed up fragments of pink coral from the region getting mixed in with the sand. It really is a stunning sight.

The last stop was a white sand beach for some more snorkeling in which we saw a baby sting ray before heading to our port of Labuan Bajo to say goodbye and disembark. The boat trip was over and it was time to go find a room, a shower, and the next adventure.


Guilt-Ridden Travel: Why I Struggle With My Own Guilty Conscience

One of the hardest things for some people to fathom is that much of your fate in life is determined by the cards you are dealt when you are born. If you are fortunate enough to be born into a westernized culture you will find you will have access to money, jobs, ‘things’ that are deemed to give people status and feelings of self importance and worth in the world because ‘they made something of themselves’. On the other side of this, if you are born into a country that is developing, majority of the people don’t have money, don’t have opportunity to make money and live in incredibly poor conditions.

My guilty conscience again kicked in as I am laid up on a massage table in Bali. $6 for an entire hour of massage. It is really nothing. I worked very little to make that money. I probably made it while I sat there supervising kids doing silent reading for ten minutes. My masseuse Anna is telling me that she works on commission. Of the $6 I pay, she receives approximately 70 cents. If there is no customers, there is no pay. She works 14 hours a day, 7 days a week with no break.

This whole conversation came about when she asked me if I was married. I told her no and she told me she got married a week ago. I asked her if she had a party with her family. She told me that she didn’t have time. Work gave her an hour off to go and sign the papers and then she came back to work. Her husband works down the road as a builder. They have two children that live three hours away in the village with her brother as they cannot afford to send their children to school in Kuta as it is too expensive. They are lucky to have jobs that allow them to afford to be able to send their kids to school at all because many people can’t afford it. They don’t know what they are going to do now though because her brother is very sick and has been in and out of the hospital but they now can’t afford to send him back to the hospital. Rising numbers of tourists in Bali has increased the cost of healthcare here and so it is too expensive to see a doctor.

As I lay there getting my massage I take all of this in. I get relatively cheap healthcare in Australia. I have a job that pays me enough to live comfortably and send any kids I have to school. I don’t have to send my kids away to live with other people so they can get a better start at life. I don’t have to work 14 hour days 7 days a week. And if I want to get married, I could probably get some time off from the boss to organize it if I wanted out of the 20 paid vacation days that most Australians are legally entitled to a year. And yet all we do is complain. And I feel guilty about that too.

I lay there and ponder what it is I can do about it because as much as I want to just open up my wallet and say ‘take my money, I can make more, I don’t need it’, I know that this is not a good fix in the long term. So I made a decision. I can’t help everybody. But I can help Anna by going back every day that I am here, getting a massage to keep her in work and her boss happy and giving her a hefty tip at the end of each massage. At least for this month, she will have a little extra in her pocket to help with the bills without feeling like a charity case.

What is more, this understanding makes me more patient with the onslaught as I walk down the street. “Transport!!”, “You buy sunglasses, one dollar”, “manicure??”. I understand that with each call out, there is somewhat a desperation to survive and make enough to keep their families going. I met one girl who moved from Java to here at twenty because there was no money in Java. So she moved to Bali so she could make the measly $70 USD a month that classes as ‘good money’ here. She couldn’t survive at home with her family.

My options are limitless as I flounder about the world hiking mountains, sitting on the beach and doing whatever I please. In an Australian sense I don’t really have that much money, but in an Indonesian sense I have about a lifetime of their wages sitting in my bank account so how am I supposed to feel OK about this? How am I supposed to feel OK about being on a perpetual holiday when these people get no days off work until they die and sleep only 5 hours a night every day as even sleep isn’t a luxury they can afford? How am I supposed to feel about drawing the lucky straw in this life when billions of others didn’t? Guilty. That is how I feel. My conscience weeps every single time I see something like this and I know that this is reality for so many. I am merely more than just a privileged western tourist staring into the fishbowl from the outside with all my money. And then I will go back to my privileged world and not think about it anymore because it is too hard and uncomfortable to think about. If I was them, I would hate me so much. And yet they don’t. They have a graciousness about them that well surpasses the graciousness of most people I know that have money.

I can’t change the whole world on my own. I can’t change the greedy nature of mankind. I would if I could but there are some things you have to accept that you just can’t change. But maybe, just maybe, I can help one person at a time and try and make my difference that way. Maybe by imparting kindness on all people I meet and choosing where I direct my dollars I can help to make small differences in the lives of few. If everybody in my situation made the effort to do this, then maybe we could make a difference to hundreds and even thousands of people to make their lives a little easier. So I challenge you! Be aware. Don’t sweep it under the rug because it is too big or uncomfortable to deal with. Choose something small and start making a difference there. Because it is with small steps, not giant leaps that we change the world. And the world really does need changing.