Jeweled Life of Jakarta to the Paddies of Padang
Oct 27, 2009
|After introducing Linda and Lina in my previous blog, I would now like to describe, in detail, the all too common accommodation and lifestyle dichotomies existing here in Indonesia.
From the jeweled life of Jakarta to the paddies of Padang, I arrived in my next "home".
Situated alongside a rice paddy, I awake every morning to ducks splashing around in the field and roosters assuming their annoying daily duties. The nearby mosque's 5 a.m. prayer calls only complicate sleeping in, calling the twins to rise and pray. Not only once, but twice. Rustling between bed, prayers, back to bed, and prayers again...all before 8 a.m.
I sleep in the twins room. Comprised of one tiny wooden bed, 2 thin floor mats, and cracked walls covered with faded posters and dried up stickers. A steady stream of ants run along the floor and a battered fan provides the only air circulation.
The rest of their family; mom, dad, two uncles and two nephews sleep in other partitioned or walled off area's of the small house.
The living room is in assortment of old-fashion wing back chairs, aging tiki wood tables, and a small television - the most modern element in the room - broadcasting crackled commentaries and distorted pictures from its 3 channels.
The bathroom is paved in concrete and closed off by a chipped, aging wooden door. A normal Indonesian toilet, "the hole in the ground, squatter", (technical term of course) sits in the corner with a water basin along side. It is from this basin that a small water bucket is extracted and poured into the toilet for manual flushing. Oh, and don't bother reaching for toilet paper because it's not there. A bucket of water is all you need.
Showering is done in much the same way. Draw your water from the basin, stand over the drain or toilet (which ever you prefer) and assume rinsing.
When it comes to the kitchen, a small burner and coconut shell burning barbecue are all the cooking luxuries the twins and their family, need to turn out traditional Padang feasts. The most important cooking utensil, of course, being "love", which they reminded me of after every delicious meal.
And despite the simplistic nature of their home, each room maintains sterile conditions. The cracked tile floors gleam in the suns afternoon light, the concrete bathroom receives a few daily scrubs, and the porch is swept every hour to prevent dust build up.
As to be expected, the accommodation differences from Jakarta to Padang are coupled with lifestyle differences, explained to me by Linda and Lina through a series of lessons; "What is polite and impolite".
Taking a seat at one of three plastic, playskool stools remaining in the crowded restaurant, Linda and Lina presented a traditional meal of, ayam bakar dan nasi (barbequed chicken and rice). Not a fork or spoon in sight, it didn't take a genius to figure out the next step. After rinsing my hands in the personal water bowl provided, I dug in. Questioning looks soon pierced me from all sides, followed by muffled laughter and the occasional crinkled nose.
Their disgust was apparent, but why? What was so foul?
I was eating with both hands! You see, in Indonesia (along with many other Asian countries), the left hand is considered, "dirty", and therefore, only one's right hand should be used for eating. Why is the left considered dirty? Well, let's just say they don't have toilet paper in this country.
So, lesson number one. Right hand clean. Left hand dirty.
Lesson number two; When entering someone's home, remove your shoes. Even shops, office buildings, and school rooms prefer shoeless entry. Their theory; bare feet are cleaner then shoes. But don't get too hasty. No shoes still gets you service, but no shirt is considered impolite.
A final lesson "covered" the topic of attire. Bare in mind, a tourist traveling in tanks and skirts would not be looked down upon or eyes averted from, but because I was with the twins, I had to be mindful. Tank tops were not allowed and skirts falling to my knee caps (the only one's I had) were still considered risque.
I can handle conservatism around town, in people's homes and on public transport, but what about at the beach?
Wearing a shirt and pants while hiding under the shade of a mangrove tree, was not my idea of a day at the beach. Most local beach go-er's ventured from beneath their shady spots for quick ankle deep strolls in the sea, but only a select few went for a swim. My favorite swimmers being two young school girls, battling the waves with jilbab still on. You go girls!
Culture and religion were, of course, part of the reason for conservative dress but the other was of a more aesthetic nature. Just as many western women prefer tanner skin, Asian women prefer whiter skin. Long sleeves, hoods, hats and even gloves are the trends in Indonesian beach ware and instead of tanning oils, skin whitening creams are used to combat the effects of the sun.
A final lifestyle difference between Jakarta and Padang, did not fall under Linda and Lina's, "polite versus impolite" checklist, it was more observatory.
Life in Padang is incredibly relaxed. Most locals I spoke with laughed at the idea of big city life, refusing to rush or stress unnecessarily . Normally, over half a family will spend their day on their front patio, gossiping with neighbors, exchanging babies for the communal baby sit, and prepping vegetables for the evening meal. A few other family members will pass the day at school, returning in late afternoon with the remaining groceries required for dinner. But only one, maybe two, will spend their day at work.
How does an entire family survive on one person's small wage? Well, just consider food and living costs. Living is cheap in Padang because basic necessities are priced low. For instance, an entire bag of rice (capable of feeding a family of 6, 3 helpings a day, for one week) might cost around 4 USD. And when it comes to vegetables, many homes have their own gardens or rely on trade with neighbors to acquire the desired produce. Many families also live without electricity and do not have mortgage payments, keeping their monthly bills to a minimum. And when it comes to insurance or health care...there is none. These luxuries are only available to the rich.
One worker families are not for lack of trying though. Work is hard to find in Padang, even with a college degree. If we thought the US faced a job crisis, think again. Over 75% of locals attend college (like Linda and Lina) however, upon completion, maybe only 25% will obtain a job. And by job, I don't mean one relating to their field of study. Accounting majors become pharmacy clerks and engineers often become motorbike touts.
Despite the two accommodation and lifestyle extremes, the internal hearts in both Jakarta and Padang were the same. Both abounding with kind, generous locals and both couch surfing hosts, wanting nothing more then to make me happy.