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Jakarta Day 3: Monday, July 17, 2017

Leko restaurant

The restaurant we ate at in the Grand Mall.

In the evening on my third day in Jakarta, Indonesia, we traveled back to the Grand Mall of Jakarta to eat supper at an Indonesian restaurant called Léko. Dewi, our in-country representative, knew the owners (a former student of hers, I believe) and ordered a variety of Indonesian dishes and drinks for us to try. They ranged from savory beef ribs to extremely spicy chicken with a hot sambal sauce. One of my favorites was a grilled fish – it wasn’t too spicy and was very tasty, especially the skin.

Waiting for bus by hotel

Our group, waiting for the bus outside the hotel.

I asked Dewi if the durian fruit smoothie was good and she said I had to try it, as did two other teachers sitting with me. Durian is considered the “king of fruits” in southeast Asia, and grows up to 30 cm long and can weigh up to 3 kg. Its name derives from the spiky protuberances that grow on the husk.

Durian_in_black

Inside the durian fruit

What I didn’t know is that people have differing reactions to the smell and taste of the fruit. Some people find it has a pleasant aroma. Others find that it smells of rotten onions, body odor, or other worse things. It is known to attract flies. It is banned from some hotels and businesses. I tried it and found it interesting at first, then it got stronger and more unpleasant the further down I sipped. It tasted to me like three-week old unwashed repeatedly used gym socks. Not that I’ve ever tasted gym socks, but you know what I mean.

I tried another teacher’s cendol, which was OK – kind of a sweet green been mixed with coconut milk. The lychee smoothie (sometimes spelled litchie or lici in Bahasa Indonesia) was good but sweet. But I couldn’t finish the durian fruit smoothie, and after the meal, the taste lingered; every time I burped or hiccupped, there it was again.

Durian fruit

Es durian, or ice durian. Not something I’m going to try.  It even smells bad just to walk past it. Now, if it was passion fruit slush, I’d be all over it, sketchy ice or not.

I’m not here to eat only American foods and drink American drinks. I’m here to experience Indonesian culture and to learn. An adventure of this sort requires the willingness to try new things, knowing that sometimes the result can be unpleasant. I know I won’t like everything I try. But so far I’ve enjoyed the food and loved the drinks. Now I know I’m one of those people that have a bad reaction to durian fruit. Sometimes knowledge comes at a price.

After dinner we had an hour for shopping. I’m not much of a shopper, unless it’s for souvenirs or gifts, and all the shops I saw here were decidedly Western. Even the posters and mannequins were of Americans or Europeans and the prices expensive. So I watched the people, trying to see if I could understand why this mall was so popular. I noticed that not many Indonesians had bags for purchases – oh, some had smaller items they had bought, but nothing really big or expensive. The downstairs grocery stores selling western food items and the restaurants seemed busy, but there didn’t seem to be as much purchasing as one would see in an American mall.

Group at Leko

The group of us at the Leko restaurant.

So do the Indonesians come here to be seen and hang out? Certainly to an extent – they were dressed much more nicely than most Americans would be at a shopping mall. But to my eyes there was something more than merely hanging out. What could be the purpose of building such a monument to Western styles and products?

 

I asked Dewi and was expecting something profound, something that would give me insight into the Indonesian soul. But I found it was for the same reason many Americans go to a mall: they like to window shop. In other words, they like to see the products and imagine what it would be like to have them; they visualize a future time when they can afford them. They’re just like us in this respect. Although I’ve never understood the attraction of shopping without buying (since I’m of the “I came, I saw, I bought, I left” – mentality – a real Veni, Vidi, Vici type of person), it speaks to my central research question that there is fundamentally no difference between the types of aspirations Indonesians and Americans have, and how the shopping mall is an expression of an ideal of what our lives can be like. The Western dominated media seen around the world has imposed our vision of the good life on Indonesians as well as Americans. I just hope that Indonesia doesn’t lose what is uniquely good about itself in the quest to become like the rest of the world.

Ancient and modern

A western Sumatran style of architecture. Notice the many tangled electric lines. It’s like this throughout the city.

As a final note to the day, I thought about how some societies have built walls to keep others out, be they the Great Wall of China or the border patrols of the United States or the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea or unspoken rules that keep some types of people out of sight. Some walls, such as immigration restrictions and tariffs, are social instead of physical. Some are based on the fear of others and their “foreign ways.” This shopping mall represents the opposite; a kind of homogeneity of styles and cultures. There were many women dressed in western fashions, others wearing hijabs or even full burkhas, but all acting and shopping and laughing just like any crowd in a shopping mall in the United States. We can build walls of fashion or laws or customs and try to hide away from others, or hide others away from us, but we are more alike than not, more similar in beliefs and aspirations than we realize. I do not feel like a stranger or a foreigner here. I may not yet speak the language well, but I am learning and I feel a part of a common humanity in this city half way around the world.

Feed a man a fish

Feed a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.

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