Indonesian Culture 101: Markets, Karaoke, and a Wedding

Sometimes I feel that all I’m doing is staring at my computer—whether it’s lesson planning, unproductive facebook browsing (dangit!), or willing my stupid internet modem to work so I can whine about how my internet doesn’t work to anyone foolish enough to be “available” on my Skype contact list.   Well that was a long, probably ungrammatical sentence… However, I actually HAVE been escaping the glare of my Dell to experience real life outside my house.

Two weekends ago, I was invited to go ‘jogging’ with my Counterpart’s wife—Bu Hanifa.  (Remember, Bu is short for Ibu- Mrs. or what you call any woman who you should show respect to.)  She collected me at (GAH) 6:30AM on Sunday.  I didn’t tell her that this is a rather torturous thing to do to an American who loves sleeping in on the weekends.  **Quick aside: people wake up SO early here. And they think Americans sleep way too much.  I need my sleep people.

So Bu Hanifa and three of her kids walked over to my house that Sunday morning (we’re neighbors), and then we walked over to this pond called Iwak Kambung, which is really close to our houses too.  When we got close, I was shocked to see all these early risers out on the streets—which were closed to the usual traffic—with parked cars open, spilling out with stuff for sale.  There were clothes, pictures, and food.  Lots of food.   We got to the pond, which has a track-like thing going all the way around it, and it was crawling with ‘joggers’ which really were just people walking.  I didn’t really have the heart to tell anyone that they weren’t actually jogging.  All along the pathway, there were food stands, and people with blankets spread out that held little toys and games for sale for children.

The Pond near my house where people like to “jog”

People selling goods near the pond

“joggers” early Sunday morning

breakfast? I think that’s sugar cane. Yum.

So we walked around the pond two or three times, and boy did I see something bizarre!  It was the largest group exercise class I’ve ever seen.  Maybe things like this happen in New York or other places, but it was wild!  Group aerobics, older men, older women, younger women, children, younger men—everyone and their brother was standing in the streets following a woman with a microphone, leading them in exercise.  It was impressive, but also made me tired just looking at it.

Keeping fit in Indonesia!

So after walking around the pond, we stopped for breakfast at one of the stands.  A man and his wife had their equipment outside of the trunk of their mini-van and were cooking martabak.  It was some kind of dough, with an egg inside, fried, and then with a curry type sauce over top it.  I had had martabak in Bandung with the other Americans, and it was fattening, chocolatey- goodness, so I was rather disappointed that it was curry and not chocolate, BUT I do like curry, and it was tasty!  It just goes to show that it’s true what they say—Java does it sweet, and Sumatra does it spicy! (I need to go back to Java soon I think).


Making my breakfast!

Martabak: My breakfast

After breakfast, Bu Hanifa took me to a local market to get some fresh vegetables.  I had really wanted to see a local market, and experience it, but I have to say, at this point I had been awake for too long, was sweaty, and arriving at a chaotic place like a market with people jostling around you and staring at the weird bule was a little bit stressful and nauseating.  Well—to be fair, the nauseating part came later…when we saw the fresh meat!  Bu Hanifa was marching me around asking me what I wanted, and I was struck deaf and dumb, trying to take in all the unfamiliar sights, smells, and people.  I finally uttered out, “uhh, potatoes” (duh—Irish!)  and grunted in agreement with her suggestion of tomatoes, onions, garlic, and carrots.  She walked through a narrow alley with stalls lined on both sides and people squatting sorting through their vegetables.

Bu Hanifa helping me find veggies

Bananas at the market

I followed dutifully, hoping she wouldn’t lose me in this crowd of people.  We went around some houses (I felt like we were in their front ‘yard’) and then ended up in a huge outdoor market full of flailing fish, cursing their luck for being caught! (I assume they were cursing)… The knives were waving around, fish heads being chopped, blood streaming.  I thanked the lord above I was wearing tennis shoes and not sandals.  (EWWW).  There were piles of fish that were still alive, and piles of dead ones.  Ibus were calling out, buying their fish, and I was trying to get the heck out of there.

Fish for sale!

Fish anyone?

It dawned on me that I was “all talk”.  I wanted to experience a truly different culture from my own; I relished the idea of shopping in local markets, and I understood this is how a great part of the world gets their food—how cool!  And there I was, just wishing I was in the hypermart (like Walmart) surrounded by florescent lights and frozen and processed foods.  That being said, I DID find it fascinating, and I was holding my camera, snapping away—being stared at by the fish sellers.  (There is a word for that in British English, isn’t there? Fish monger?)  Anywho, I digress… so Bu Hanifa is asking if I want to buy fish or chicken, and I’m trying not to laugh out loud at the thought of it.  I wouldn’t even know what to do with a dead fish (obviously cook it but I don’t know how to do that either).  I consider chicken, but then I see them… cages of chickens, next to them, carcasses of chickens, next to that—big jugs of water for soaking dead chickens, then the people who are plucking the chickens… and the blood. Aaand I decided I’d stick to the pre-packaged chicken in the supermarket.  On our way out of the full market, I spot avocados, and my morning has been saved! I’ll take three please.  Of course Bu Hanifa does the talking here, but one day I will be able to bargain and haggle for my avocados.  Maybe.  On the way home, I got my first becak ride!  (The bicycle with the little carriage attached to the front).  It was a squeeze with two people, but pretty fun!   So in conclusion, markets are overwhelming to a sheltered American who enjoys Kroger and Food Lion, BUT I do hope to keep buying my vegetables there—and avoiding the whole meat section…

Part 2: KARAOKE!

So I’ve found my new hobby.  Karaoke here (and like most places in Asia) does NOT involve standing up in front of a bar of drunken strangers, singing a song you love, and they might not know.  HERE, it involves a group of friends, going to a karaoke place and renting a room—complete with your own TV, playlist and several microphones.  (Oh, and a server to supply some liquid courage).  So this past weekend, I had my first karaoke experience in Palembang (I had already had a few in Bandung and Jakarta during our orientation).   A group of us went—including Femmy & Ramdan who are awesome Indonesians who works at a local radio station! They brought some of their friends from the station who we had met earlier Friday night, and then there was me, Annalisa & Dustin.

Romantic Family Karaoke. Really??? (Please, NO West Virginia jokes here.)

Some of my songs included: Party in the USA (crowd pleaser), some Adele, American Boy by Estelle—I really enjoyed that rapping bit, some Beatles, Livin on a Prayer, etc.  I (re)discovered that I am a mic-hog, and was happy to find out I was not alone—Annalisa was grabbing for the mic, belting out the songs too.  We were unstoppable!

We did let other people sing of course, and we even got Dustin (who “hates” karaoke) reaching for the mic during Oasis.  Hearing/watching veiled Muslim girls singing David Guetta’s Sexy ***** song was incredibly awesome.  It was so fun that a whole other group of us (some of the same people) needed to do it again the NEXT night.  This time with some Indonesian guys who possibly hogged the mic more than Annalisa and I did.  (Didn’t know that was even possible). So this is possibly why my throat hurts on this Tuesday afternoon…  Oh side note: Almost Heaven, West Virginia- NOT as easy as you’d think. Those high notes were killer!

Lastly: A Palembang Wedding! Last Sunday night

Well it started off rocky, in that when Pak Herizal and Bu Hanifa and their family came to pick me up, Bu Hanifa said she thought I’d be wearing batik (the ‘fancy’ clothing here that is worn for special occasions).  She also asked if I had lipstick.  Strike two. I ran back inside, changed my clothes, and grabbed some lipstick.  Lipstick in hand, I piled in next to their two daughters, Hikma who is 16, and Yaya (nickname for Myra) who is about 3?  The boys were in the backseat—Hafiz aged 14 & Ozzie (nicknamed for Australia where he was born) aged 11?…   So Indonesian (or at least Palembang) wedding 101: Basically they take several days I think. And the ceremony had already happened that morning.  We were going to the party.  (sweet!)  So, it is very normal, in fact, typical to invite around 2,000 people to your party.  TWO THOUSAND.  When I ask the obvious question, do the bride and groom even KNOW 2,000 people, the answer is, of course not.  It is traditional to extend invitations to anyone and everyone.  I still don’t even know how I’d find 2,000 people to go anywhere.  But I suppose there is a stronger sense of community here, and it’s quite normal to have several wedding invitations per weekend-day (Saturday and Sunday).  Pak Herizal’s family was going to this one because it was for one of Bu Hanifa’s cousins.  It was very stunning.  The decorations were gold and red, and the procession of the bride and groom was very dramatic. They both wore headpieces that apparently weighed a ton (according to Hikma who was my wedding guide!)  Everyone was very regal-looking.  There were food stands all around the reception hall—basically a buffet but a wandering one.  I ate chicken sate (kebabs) in peanut sauce, and bakso soup (meatball soup).  I wasn’t too famished, so I politely declined the offer of 31 other dishes by Bu Hanifa.  (People like to feed you here).

Bridal Party–with the groom & bride seated in the middle.

Hikma walked around with me, suggesting things I could take pictures of.  She directed me towards the ice sculpture, and I noted that I couldn’t believe it was still standing in Palembang’s heat.  I really wanted to go put my face on it throughout the evening, but I figured that wouldn’t be culturally appropriate.

The line to congratulate the happy couple & family. The line looks calm and organized from here, but it wasn’t!

Hikma, my lovely wedding guide!

There was a prayer by an Imam, and there was a traditional dance.  But only for a few dancers.  Unfortunately it’s not like our American weddings where everyone goes out and tears up the dance floor!  And then, there was the mosh-pit of greeting and congratulating the bridge, groom, and parents of both.  I have experienced being smushed at Virginia Tech football games, concerts, and once during an especially crowded day on Charles Bridge in Prague with my dad, Jennifer & Conor.  And I had some flashbacks.  Let me rewind.  So it is traditional to get in ‘line’ to congratulate the wedding party that is seated on stage—the groom’s parents, the groom, the bride, and the bride’s parents.  Once it was announced, a mob rushed forward.  I followed Bu Hanifa and Hikma.  We got in “line” but in Indonesia “lines” don’t really exist.  It’s more of a general crowding around the entrance.  I’ve also noticed this while waiting to get on airplanes here.  People just rush the door, trying to be the next person—no such thing as standing in line, one by one.  So this was similar, and I was a little frightened.  However, being about a head taller than most people helps in these situations, because at least I could breathe!  Getting up the steps to the stage was the worst part.  People were pushing from all sides—tiny Indonesian women were sneaking under and past me up to the stage.  Hikman was behind me luckily, so she tried to make sure I didn’t get pushed off the steps.  Once we were ON the stage—STILL no line to greet the bride and groom, it seemed to be at the VERY last minute that people decided who would go next.

The wedding mosh pit.

So I was trying to go behind Hikma, to watch how she shook their hands—kind of involves bending to touch their hand to your head.  But there was a woman behind me who was having none of it—she wanted in.  So I’m trying to stick right behind Hikma to go after her to congratulate the wedding party, and this woman is basically GROPING my butt! She seriously was holding my bum- so I had to turn around several times and give her an American scowl. Not appropriate! I don’t care how smushed we are.  Some of you can attest to this (Katie Saunders) I HATE being touched by strangers—in bars, at football games, I don’t like it! Even cute guys-if I don’t know you- don’t touch me! So after I freaked a bit (post-congratulating) I asked Hikma if that was normal.  She replied that the woman behind HER on her way up the stairs was holding her hip, and she seemed equally outraged.  So I felt better.  So maybe I’m a bit dramatic, but it was actually a pretty cool experience.  There were some singers who sang during our mosh pit fun, and someone sang Whitney Houston’s “I will Always love you” and I flashed back to JACKD roadtrips to North Carolina where we’d almost break the windows.  So that was special.

So there.  I have been doing more than facebooking and wandering around my house spraying mosquitoes.


About Deirdre Hand

"To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted." Bill Bryson
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2 Responses to Indonesian Culture 101: Markets, Karaoke, and a Wedding

  1. Kate says:

    Hahaha your explanation of the matrimonial groping (not what it sounds like…) is hilarious. It sounds like you’ve had some good adventures (and I hope you really worked up a sweat “jogging”!).

  2. Jackie says:

    Hahaha…I can hear your voice so clearly! Especially the bit about the ice sculpture 😛

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