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Jakarta Day 5: Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Sederhana restaurant exterior

Sederhana, a western Sumatra restaurant chain. We ate lunch there.

After our visit to SMAN 8 Jakarta, we boarded the bus and traveled to a western Sumatran restaurant. Along the way, we passed through several districts with businesses that seemed to specialize in one particular type of goods. There was the office supply district, selling office chairs and filing cabinets, among other things. There was the car repair district with shops and auto parts stores. And there was even a very small handicapped equipment district. I’m not sure what the advantage would be to congregate similar businesses in the same areas – perhaps it would be for customers, since if you know you need office supplies, then there is a particular area of the city where you go to find them. You don’t have to run around the whole city going from store to store. But I can’t figure out how this would be an advantage to the stores themselves. It would lead to increased competition and lower prices and less profits. Maybe concentrating customers more than makes up for increased competition.

Sumatran food

West Sumatran food is served in a series of small bowls and you only pay for what you eat. Any unused dishes go back in the warming oven for other customers.

We wound up back on the same loop we were this morning, wondering if we would be eating at Wong Solo after all. Instead, we stopped at an interestingly designed restaurant I had noticed this morning, called Sederhana. It had the steeply pitched roof corners of west Sumatran architecture, and Dewi explained this was the style of food of her native area.

We managed to find a place where the bus could pull over enough for us to get out and walk in. We sat at two long tables as the waiters brought out a large assortment of small dishes, all with different types of food. The style of eating here is somewhat like a buffet, but all the dishes are brought to your table and you pick the ones you want to eat and pay for only those. The ones not touched will be stacked back under the heat lamps for the next customers. So it was important that we not pick little bits from many dishes – we had to eat all of one dish before starting another of the same food.

West Sumatran dishes

Close up of Sumatran dishes, ranging from sliced cucumber to spicy chicken and curried fish.

It was pretty spicy stuff, but delicious. There was chicken in various sauces ranging from spicy roasted chicken with sambal to chicken in curry sauce. There was tasty beef rendang, grilled fish, vegetables cooked in coconut milk, and many more. I tried a variety, and liked some more than others. I’m not a big fan of curry, but can eat it if I need to. We had drinks such as Stroberi Fanta or bottled water, some dessert-like dishes such as flan or gelatin, and many more. We passed things around and tried to finish all the dishes we started.

Bailarung Hotel

The Bailarung Hotel in Jakarta. The top floor is designed with traditional western Sumatran architecture.

The bus managed to park by the restaurant, so we boarded again and headed toward the new downtown area and U.S. Consulate for our next stop.

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Jakarta Day 2: Sunday, July 16, 2017

Garuda pancasila

The Indonesian flag, with the golden Garuda holding the motto “Unity in Diversity” (old Javanese – Different but One). The five symbols in the shield are the Pancasila.

Now that we were all in Jakarta, we were ready to begin the final training for our field experiences at various schools across Indonesia. We spent the morning in a conference room at the Le Meridién Hotel learning about Indonesian customs and culture.

Dewi led our discussion. She began with a brief history of Indonesia, including the discoveries of Java Man, events leading up to Indonesian independence in 1945, and the governments of Sukarno and Soeharto. When the economy tanked in 1997, Soeharto was forced to step down and Indonesia has been a representative democracy ever since. She discussed the philosophy of Pancasila and the emblem of Indonesia, the Garuda bird with the shield divided into five sections representing the five principles of Pancasila: 1 – The Star, representing a unity of belief in one God (there are five recognized religions in Indonesia: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Catholicism, and Protestant Christianity – of course, some of these five are polytheistic, such as Hinduism, so I’m not sure how the “one God” aspect works); 2 – The Gold Chain, representing a just and civilized humanity; 3 – The Banyan Tree, representing different roots growing into a common national unity; 4 – The Bull, representing a democracy based on the inherent wisdom of unanimity arising from deliberation among popular representatives; and 5 – The Rice and Cotton, representing social justice for all Indonesians.

We had a break with some tasty juices (pineapple and mango) and fried banana fritters and cookies.

Provinces-of-Indonesia-Map copy

The provinces (states) of Indonesia. They are divided into Regencies (counties) and Districts.

After the break, Dewi went on about some of the customs and the many diverse cultures around the islands. She is originally from western Sumatra but now teaches in Jambi, which is in eastern Sumatra. The major islands of Indonesia (Borneo, Java, and Sumatra) are called the Greater Sunda Islands and are large enough to have many cultures and dialects on the same island. Western Sumatra has unique food, architecture, and customs compared with eastern Sumatra or the more conservative Muslims of Aceh in northern Sumatra. Some ethnic groups or tribes live in the deep interior and have unique languages and customs.

A villager wearing traditional costume jumps over a stone

The tradition of jumping the stone on Nias Island. To prove one’s manhood, you get a running start and vault off of a foot stone and over the top. There is no soft bar that falls when you hit it. Just hard stone.

I checked out a video from our local library about traveling in Indonesia, which also covered some of these ethnic groups. One group on Nias Island off the west coast of Sumatra have a kind of high jump tradition to test one’s arriving at manhood – you get a running start, vault off of a standing stone, and must clear a hurdle about six feet high. Dewi and the video both spoke of other ethnic groups, such as the Toraja of Sulawesi who have houses shaped like the hulls of boats and don’t burry their dead for a year, the Betawi of Java with the traditional black “Soeharto” hat (I’ve got to get one of these) and who have the Ondel-ondel puppets, the saman dance of Aceh province, or the plate dance of West Sumatra, where they break the plates at the end and jump on them barefoot, the kecak dance of Bali, the wayang puppets of Yogyakarta, and other traditions.

There are perhaps 200 or more dialects throughout Indonesia, and Bahasa Indonesia has become the official language as a way of unifying all these cultures together. Most people speak and read it as well as their local dialect and some English or other international language. Teachers wear a khaki tan uniform on Mondays and Tuesdays, black pants and white shirts with ties on Wednesdays, local batik patterns on Thursdays, and more casual clothing on Fridays and Saturdays. School goes six days per week, although Saturdays are more for activities and clubs.

Dewi ended by talking about different Indonesian foods, such as beef rendang (a spicy beef dish from Sumatra), nasi goreng (fried rice), satay padang (rice cakes with sauce), soto (a noodle and rice stew), and bakso (meatball soup). She spoke of cendol, a drink made from sweet green beans and coconut, as well as other favorites. I expect to have the chance to try all of these over the next three weeks.

Beef rendang

Beef rendang, a spicy and savory dish from western Sumatra.

We would learn more particulars about the Indonesian education system tomorrow, but for now, our training was done for the day.

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