This is one of my favorite things to write about. When you travel, you just come across so many things that seem strange to you, but are just a part of everyday life in the countries you travel in. Here in Indonesia, there are many customs that are different to the rest of Asia, and many others that carry over from Thailand and Vietnam.
One that seems to be pretty standard across the Asian board is traveling in local buses. For example, whether it is a mini-bus, or a large local bus, they always fit as many people as humanly possible into the thing. What I mean is that the number of seats on the bus does not, by any means, equal the number of passengers. Sometimes it's doubled leaving people sitting on laps, floors, even rooftops of these buses...not so safe, or easy for large westerners with long legs. It does, however always make for an entertaining trip every time. Even when you think they can't possible fit another body in there, they do. You get pretty up close and personal with your neighbor!
This next one only occurs in Indonesia (thank God). As you know by now, there is quite a large population of Muslims here in Indo. Well, Muslims are very dedicated to their religion. So much so that they are expected to pray 5 times a day starting at 4 a.m. It all kicks off with blaring intercoms located everywhere (and I mean everywhere, even in Harau Valley) with recorded voices chanting for an hour and a half. As you can imagine, when searching for a place to stay, the first thing you look for is the nearest intercom-bearing Mosque. The place I'm currently staying at is right next door to one. Needless to say, I didn't get much sleep this morning. That's just the beginning. Remember, I said they pray 5 times a day, which means, there are prayer places sprawled across the city and countryside. The funny part is where you find them sometimes. Two of my favorite "Mushollas" so far have been in the gas station and the airport. The gas station one is hilarious. The big illuminated sign outside reads (in Bahasa): Petrol, Snacks, Drinks, Toilet, Musholla (prayer room). The Jakarta airport one was actually pretty depressing. It was just a glassed off 20 foot long area with a brick wall. 6 people were crammed in there with their shoes off praying to a bunch of brick...I guess it doesn't matter where it is for the Muslims. Just as long as they can fulfill their duty.
Another good one that again spans across Asia, is that there doesn't seem to be a driving or smoking age. Every boy here smokes and drives. I've been the passenger in a small local (short-distance) bus with a driver as young as 10 smoking a cigarette and blasting American Pop-Rock.
Oh, this one is hilarious. Did you know that Indonesia has Dunkin Donuts? Yep, and KFC too...everywhere! We don't even have Dunks in California, and it's made its way all the way to Indonesia! Weird. The other funny thing was that when we flew from Java to Sumatra, everyone was bringing huge boxes of doughnuts to their loved ones!
Speaking of food, the local food here in Indonesia is a cultural experience all in its own. Remember how mom used to always tell you not to eat with your hands? Exactly the opposite here, in fact, it's encouraged! This is a little sketchy sometimes because, much like India, Indonesia has a "food hand" and a "poop hand". Left is poop, right is food, and don't mix 'em up or else you'll come down with a swift case of Hepatitis. You may want to wash your hands after shaking with a local too, you just never know. Anyways, the food. So they serve you a huge heaping bowl of white rice and anywhere from 5 to 25 plates of various dishes to flavour your rice with. You then dip your right hand into a bowl of water, ball up a bit of rice and mix it with your choice of tasty (and sometimes really spicy) Indonsian cuisine. It's usually something along the lines of a curry or a fried fish, chicken or beef dish. It's actually quite good, and really fun in a rebellious kind of way!
The markets in all of Asia are quite impressive as well. The good ones have everything, and I mean, everything! From live chickens and rotting fish, to hand made jewlery, clothing, jilbabs (Muslim head coverings) of every color and woodcarvings, you can usually find it all in one small, congested series of corridors that seems to be never ending. Good luck finding your way out of these markets. Most of the vendors sell almost exactly the same thing in every shop. Sometimes they are divided up into departments, and other times, not so much. Most of it is junk, but you can find a diamond in the rough sometimes. Basically, you have to know exactly what you are after to make it worth your while.
My favorite Indonesian nuance is the greeting that you get in Indonesia. Whether you are male or female, young or old, there is one sweet greeting that lets you know that you are in Indo. "Hello Mister". You'll hear it 20, 30, 40 times a day, and it gets old real fast. I like responding back with the same "Hello Mister" in a high pitched voice. That seems to get a laugh...
I'll keep em comin'!