An Imperialised Nation

Today marks my first month in Surabaya. And besides the perma-goo that I wake up with coating my eyes every morning from the pollution, the city does have its redeeming qualities and I seem to learn something new everyday.  Regardless, there are moments that make my time in Surabaya endurable, and sometimes even rewarding. Think Bali..Think Bali…Think Bali….

Here is what I have gathered after my first month: Indonesians do not greet each other with “How are you doing?” They are actually quite confused by the expression, and I was told by one of the Indonesian teachers that it makes for an awkward moment when you actually do ask the question. This now makes perfect sense, because whenever I get into a taxi and ask the driver “Apa Kabar?” he looks at me oddly and never responds. Also, in my classes, I begin every class by asking  my students “How are you?’. They all say “fine” but never ask me back. So I drill them every class until they say “fine, thank you. And how are you?”. But I can still tell they don’t get it. Now that I know it is a cultural difference, I will lay back on them.

So, what do Indonesians say upon greeting each other?”Just “Hi”. But I guess when you think about it, asking how someone is when you first see them is kind of pointless. The norm is always to say “fine”. Even if you are having a shitty, no good, horrible day. If you were to be truthful and  say “shitty” or “horrible”, most likely they would look at you oddly, probably thinking “Man-who is this Debbie Downer?-JUST trying to make polite conversation”. So maybe the Indonesians do have a point…Just say hi.

In Indonesia, everything is by the book, and they don’t really try to think outside of the box.  Now, there are the few exceptions, but in general this is the reality. And I am not the only one who thinks this…the other teachers notice it as well. For example: At a restaurant my friend ordered a cheese pizza. The waitress said they were out of cheese pizza. My friend then ordered a chicken pizza which they had. So she asked the waitress ” well can’t you just leave the chicken out and make a cheese pizza?’  A light bulb went on over her head and she said ” Ohhhhh! Yes, I can!”. However, these occasional lapses in common sense are more than made up by their positive attitudes and smiles which seem to be ingrained on their faces.

I am kind of running out of topics to talk about with my students. In other teaching experiences, the students were more cultured. They liked to talk about politics, art, music, and their hobbies. But honest to God, the students here really do nothing more than eat, sleep, and shop. Now, in all fairness, these students are put through strenuous weekly schedules filled with 8 to 9 hours of school, 6 days a week, and then in addition they are coming to E.F. to learn English at nights. I guess that by the time Sunday rolls around, the only energy they are able to muster up is used to simply…. relax. I do have one class that makes me love my job. They are an upper -intermediate group between the ages of 14-20. They really make me laugh. The other day we were talking about  their President and they all said he was “girly”. One of my students even went as far to get up and do an impersonation of his feminate walk.

Racism exists here like it does everywhere else-  And Indonesia has a dark history of genocide. Between the years 1965 to 1975, Suharto (Indonesia’s old dictator) had one million Chinese Indonesians killed. Even though things have been “resolved”, there still remains a huge divide between the Chinese Indonesians and Indonesians…. The Chinese are usually very wealthy and successful, and own most of the businesses . However, they create jobs and the Indonesians are employed by them. But this brings up a bitter issue. The Indonesians feel like the Chinese came here last, and are now taking over their country and in turn bossing them around. However, I see it as a trend that is happening worldwide (I mean come on-we all saw the Olympics, right?) The Chinese are successful business owners in the States as well. For the most part,  they are  an overall hardworking, goal oriented group of people. Even though I can emphasize with both points of view, I think that if it were not for the Chinese, the economy would not be as successful as it is in Indonesia today. However, it used to be the Dutch in control, and if the Chinese hadn’t have stepped up to the plate someone else inevitably would have.

On another note- the Bule men are in heaven here. Its almost as if  they are reincarnated Jihad suicide bombers..  There exist a plethora of gorgeous Indonesian “Bule hunters”  who have their eye on white men. And it’s not because these men are nessacarily attractive either-trust me. When you get to the bottom of it, the Asian women associate white men with having money. It’s their career. Find a rich man to take care of you and the rest is….well come to think of it-sounds like some women back home as well..haha. I guess wherever you go there will inevitably be gold diggers.  But no,really..it is quite comical how these Asian women hold average Bule men up on golden pedestals.

Cigarette companies are having a field day here! They are cheap-I want to say around $1 a pack- and adverstised everywhere. It really is quite awful.The brand “Black” (clove cigarettes that just so happen to be illegal in the US because they are so bad for your health) even have their own T.V. station that airs music videos and anything pop culture related. Imagine if MTV was called Camel TV!  The only anti- smoking mentality I have encountered is Indonesia’s new legislation banning smoking in public places-but it is a joke because no one adheres to it. But in the end, my first month has been filled with more positive experiences than negative, and I am happy with the way things are. Now if only the country would lift the wine tax….

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