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Bromo and Semeru

Indonesia (Part 1)

July to October 2004

We rode into town from the Surabaya airport. What incredible chaos! There seemed to be no order to it all: cars, motorbikes, pedestrians, bicycles, street vendors: everyone and everything was weaving in and around each other. People were everywhere; talking, eating, hawking goods or just sitting by the road playing their guitar and watching the traffic go by. We were far from the multi-lane highways, street lights and the clean, ordered, mostly-deserted sidewalks and neatly-trimmed greenery of Malaysia and Singapore. Here in Surabaya, to make a U-turn, you pay a man in the middle of the street who steps into oncoming traffic armed with a plastic whistle. Lined up along the road were places to eat, nothing more than simple tents thrown up around a table and chairs by a smoking grill or a propane wok full of boiling grease. Watermelons and pineapples dangled from the eaves of roadside fruit stands, suspended like cured hams.

Later that evening we had our first taste of real Indonesian food: fried rice, sate and fried chicken. Our friends shook their heads in disbelief: how could we get so excited about “nasi goreng” (fried rice)? After dinner we discovered the mandi, the Indonesian way to wash. A large basin, looking like a small, upright bathtub, holds water for bathing. A heart-shaped scooper is used to splash the cold water all over your body, getting everything wet, including the walls and floor of the bathroom. It feels wonderful on a hot day to peel off your sticky clothes, dip the scooper in the cool basin, then splash and pour water all over the place to your heart's content. Indonesians keep themselves very clean and bathe often, at least once a day, sometimes more. They also wash their clothes often. Although they tend to be very clean about their own bodies, they don't mind dumping all their waste and garbage into the river for someone else's washing and drinking downstream.