We just celebrated a huge milestone. We’ve been living in Indonesia for TWO YEARS. This is the longest I’ve ever lived outside of the US. Many people here on the island and even back home ask us how long we plan to stay. Indonesia has burrowed itself deep in my heart, and I don’t see making a return move any time soon. In honor of our two years abroad, I thought I’d capture seven reasons why I’ve fallen in love with this beautiful country.
I have never met friendlier people while traveling. As soon I first arrived in Indonesia, I was struck by the kindness of Indonesians. As I’ve gotten to know them, and communicate with them, I see their depth and richness of character. I love how Indonesians value family and their community, over an individual need or desire. I also love how completely diverse the people groups within Indonesia are. The motto of Indonesia is “Unity in Diversity”, and it’s completely accurate. From diverse religions, local languages, and hundreds of ethnically different people groups, it doesn’t seem like this country should work together. But the people are resilient, proud to be Indonesian, and strong. I absolutely love befriending Indonesian people.
The culture of Indonesia is reflected by the people of Indonesia. The culture of Batak or Manado or Bali or Sasak can vary wildly from traditions to foods and even religious practices. Mostly, I’ve been living in Bali, and have been totally immersed in the Balinese culture. I’d never experienced anything like this culture before moving here. The Balinese culture is completely dependent on the religion of Hinduism. It has been said one cannot be Balinese without being Hindu. It would be like if each state in the US had it’s own cultural identity. Sure, an American can usually identify when they’ve met someone from Texas or New York or California, but most states don’t have a strong culture. But in Indonesia, it’s strong and distinct. Again, it’s another beautiful expression of “Unity in Diversity”.
I’d never seen a country where creativity is such an integral part of culture. From dance to architecture to wood carvings to fine art to sculpture work, creativity is always on display around Indonesia. I feel like I’m constantly surprised by the creativity. I’ll suddenly see an ornate wooden door for the first time and it will stop me in my tracks. I love the traditional clothing men and women wear throughout Indonesia, and the art by which they create it. Every year for Balinese New Year, the local neighborhoods create giant statues from recycled materials which are paraded through the streets. These statues are elaborate and breathtaking. There’s so much creativity still done by hand here in Indonesia. While so many industries in Indonesia are being modernized, I am relieved to see women gathering together, weaving palm leaves for an upcoming ceremony basket. It’s a sign that the past can remain in the present.
You guys, coming from America, Indonesia is CHEAP. I can get an entire Indonesian meal for $1. Fresh fruit juices for 25 cents. Hour long massages for $5. See a movie for $4. Nice hotel rooms for $20. This is an affordable country to make a home. In America, I’m used to paying just as much for labor as for the product itself. If I get my car worked on, I could pay $40 for the part and $60 for the labor! But in Indonesia, labor costs are so incredibly low, as the cost of living is so incredibly low. Recently, I had to get my motorbike tires checked because I thought there was a leak. The guy spent about 20 – 30 minutes focused on my tires and checking for the leak. Cost him nothing in parts, and charged me less than $1 for his time. Crazy. I love that can pour back into the local economy, by eating at local restaurants [not big chains], using local laundry services, and shopping at neighborhood markets.
I’m not an adventurous eater, so I was surprised how much I liked the food in Indonesia! It’s an incredible blend of sweet & savory & spicy all rolled into one. Rice, of course, is at the heart of the Indonesian cuisine. An Indonesian person doesn’t feel like they’ve eaten a meal unless they’ve had rice. The other core item in Indonesian diet is sambal, or chili sauce. Sometimes fresh, sometimes bottled, it doesn’t matter. An Indonesian must have their sambal! I’m still building up a tolerance for the spice. It’s unlike salsa or hot sauces I’ve had at home. It’s a uniquely Indonesian taste. But it’s adds richness to any dish. And of course, the street food culture of Indonesia is not to be missed! For more on street food, check out my previous post. Food, like family, is important in Indonesia. It brings people together. When an Indonesian walks into a room with food, they’ll offer whatever they have to the people around them. Food is a community experience.
This Florida girl loves her beaches. And Indonesia has beaches like none other. Pristine white sand beaches that stretch for miles. Rocky cliffside beaches with small patches of sand. Volcanic black sand beaches. Beachside cafes. Beachfront resorts. Surf shacks. Yoga studios. If you love beach culture like I do, Indonesia is a must visit. I’ve probably visited at least 20 beaches just on Bali alone, and there’s still many more to explore! I love that no matter where I am on the island, I’m never too far from the beach. And it’s not just a tourist thing either. The Indonesians love their beaches too. On Sunday evenings at sunset, our beach is packed with locals eating together, swimming together and enjoying the last light of the day. Even the Balinese use the beaches as a key part of their Hindu ceremonies. While Western tourists prefer to bake in the sun for the perfect tan, Asian tourists prefer to hide in the shade until the sun’s strength has gone. It’s really fun seeing the cross-section of Asian and Western tourists enjoy the same piece of earth, but in different ways.
7. Learnable Language
I’m American and admittedly never needed to learn a second language. But when I moved to Indonesia, I didn’t just need to learn the language, but I wanted to learn it. I had so many questions about life and culture that couldn’t be communicated with English. I wanted friends, and only speaking English would limit my sphere. So I began to learn Indonesian, or as it’s called Bahasa Indonesia. A couple things that I discovered right away were this language is incredibly phonetic and probably the easiest Asian language for a Westerner to learn. It uses our same alphabet and it’s not tonal. In the first month, I began learning basic vocabulary and I was putting together simple sentences. Indonesian people are the most encouraging people ever when it comes to learning language. With just a few words, they are saying how fluent I am. To which I laugh and thank them. The grammar is pretty straight forward, and not long past six months I was having simple conversations. After the the first year, I was able to use Indonesian to learn Indonesian, which was a huge breakthrough. Now I as continue to learn in my second year, I can focus more on conversational language, and how to sound like a native speaker. This may be a task I never complete, but I’m trying.
I hope you can come to Indonesia and experience it for yourself! You may just never want go home again either.