Almost Indonesian

February marked my first year of living in Malang, the longest in my history of transient life, surpassing my length of stay in Manila, Jakarta, and Balut Island near the Philippines-Indonesia maritime border. In case you wonder, why Malang? I’ve written a post about that here.

One evening in December 2015, my friend Tri who comes from Madura cornered me with a question. “Where do you go after this?” This year, I’m bound to wrap up my masters as my scholarship contract requires me to complete all the requirements in two years. “To the Philippines,” I said.

But where exactly in the Philippines? I wondered. Will I return to Manila — where a probinsyano (wong deso) established a career in business journalism from scratch — or Davao — where I would return teaching at my alma mater while I juggle my time covering Mindanao for news agencies based in the Philippine capital?

This question never came into my mind years ago, when I was yet imagining of a possible life in Indonesia. In 2010, I would often daydream how life would be if I were in Jakarta, where every morning I would feed myself martabak mesir prepared outside my kost with a brick roof. And every night, I would climb to the top to play the guitar while puffing a burning kretek, an Indonesian cigarette that’s ridiculously expensive in the Philippines. I wanted to live in a country where the religion which I was first introduced to is the minority. I wanted to live in another persona who speaks in a different language. I wanted to live in the land of some of the people who consider Indonesia as their homeland despite never touching its shores. (Read: Ketika “Dari Sabang Sampai Merauke” Dinyanyikan Anak-Anak Kecil di Filipina)

Having been living here for more than a year, I’ve grown accustomed to hearing mosques compete with each other with the loudness of their azhan five times a day, to skip the usual dinaing na bangus as breakfast in exchange of gado-gado, to hangout at coffee shops where cigarette smoke dilutes the air, to travel from home to work or school driving a motorbike on the left side of the traffic, to speak Indonesian every day without having the need to code-switch or grab my Alfalink (which I have long donated to a friend who’s trying to learn English).

And it never occurred to me that Indonesiasi would not only change the way I eat (in July last year, my mother called me out for catching me sit on the floor while grabbing lunch using my bare hands to feed myself). “You act like an Indonesian now,” Tri told me after explaining that I was hesitant to bring up a serious problem in a meeting (well, it’s not like Filipinos are better at confrontation). No longer I was that hotheaded English-speaking Bisaya who came to Java clueless of the wisdom behind sopan santun and kebersamaan. Sometimes, in classroom discussions, I would find myself acquiescing to lecturers despite a part of me still wants to dispute some of the points raised. Also, I would find myself uttering terserah when when my friends decide to have dinner together. Terserah means it’s up to you, an expression that I despise because it symbolises indecisiveness, or not being certain for what one truly wants.

In the academic world, Indonesiasi is used to refer to the decolonisation that occurred at the time Indonesia gained independence from Netherlands. So the Acehnese, Dayak, Irian, Javanese, Sundanese, Balinese, Minangkabau, Minahasa and including my friend’s Madurese people would identify themselves as Indonesians first before anything else.

In my case, Indonesiasi is the result of living in Indonesia for more than a year. It’s so noticeable that my free-spirited Arab-Indonesian friend Latif now wonders why I no longer complain about people showing up late (well I still do; they’ve become perfect materials for my future literary projects) and that why, he asked, I no longer confront people who make nasty racism remarks. I told Latif that Indonesians do not like to be embarrassed in public, despite many of the strangers I encounter often unintentionally embarrass me in crowds, such as the way they poke fun at my name (Mick+rofon) or my baldness. We have to understand that while they have to be aware of the perils of the lack of discipline and political correctness, each culture bears its own flaws. Like Filipinos, tardiness and bigotry have been unintentionally woven into our ethos, and no thanks to many Indonesian and Philippine TV shows for acting as culprits.

2016 marks my final year in Indonesia, and the question of where to go next still remains unanswered. Where will this Indonesiasi-nised Filipino go? Will he go back to the Philippines to undergo a Filipinasasi, or will he stay in Indonesia and take another round of chances here?

Tri once said, “why not? You’re almost Indonesian.”


7 thoughts on “Almost Indonesian

  1. Interesting post! Thanks for sharing. I find it fascinating to hear about Indonesian culture from outsider’s perspective, which in this case you’re almost Indonesian. Wishing you all the best! Why not extending your stay for a PhD program?

    1. Thank you so much for reading! To answer your question, I think I kinda miss the Philippine education system 😄

      1. I don’t blame you. I left Indonesia during my adolescent year. I don’t know much about the higher education system in Indonesia. Whenever I go there for a visit I feel like an outsider. I have a few good friends (ates) from the Philippines.

  2. Wonderfully written! As a Filipino, I’ve always wanted to befriend our ASEAN brothers and sisters. Where I grew up, I heard Europe and America mentioned more than our neighbors and I think that’s sad. It’s nice to read about a bit of a Filipinos perspective while living in Indonesia.

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