Experiencing Indonesia

INDONESIA is a country famed for its many islands, beaches and rich cultural heritage. After my graduation, I travelled to Indonesia through West Kalimantan, a journey filled with intriguing experiences and fatigue.

The road from Kuching to West Kalimantan wanders through a surprisingly narrow stretch. “Why can’t they expand it?” I wondered to myself. Though I was told it would be bumpy, I failed to notice this.

At the border, my bag was searched thoroughly. Embarrassing as it was, the customs officers dug their hands into my luggage revealing my personal belongings, but I passed the test of not being a terrorist.

After a night in Pontianak, I was on a plane to Jakarta. After approximately an hour’s delay, I was on my way to my destination. Jakarta is known for its traffic jams and it never ceased to disappoint. “Why don’t they cut the number of cars on the road?” I wondered.

I was in Indonesia to help with the preparation for the International Youth Climate Forum that will take place later this month. I also managed to sneak into the Asia Pacific Youth Interfaith Meeting that was organised by a couple of Indonesian friends.

Realising the importance of different faiths working together, it was of interest for the Indonesian Youth Forum to hold such an event. In a nation that has experienced religious clashes, interfaith meetings are instrumental in addressing such an issue.

The meeting echoed the message of tolerance, acceptance and love for one another irrespective of faiths — the need to see each other as brothers and sisters and work to together. This meeting tried to create an understanding of what different religions are in the midst of some religions being used by a few to convey the message of hatred and conflict.

For young people, it is always nice to meet others from different countries partaking in youth activism.

It serves as a point of inspiration to either start or continue one’s efforts to contribute towards development.

In the midst of this meeting, my eyes wandered to spot different patterns of behaviours. One thing that you do not see in Malaysia is the craze over Blackberry smartphones at the rate of Indonesia’s.

From West Kalimantan all the way to Jakarta, more than 80 per cent of the Indonesians I met owned a Blackberry or an imitation.

I was told Indonesians are a little obsessed by the Blackberry and would go the extra mile to get one or a lookalike.

Facebook is one feature that has many glued to this technology. Half the time, if not more, an Indonesian would be sending a message, checking or surfing the Web.

Sometimes this was infuriating when a speaker was delivering a speech and half the participants were on their phones. Not only is this rude but also impedes the understanding of the message.

Another thing I noticed was the layout of the Internet cafes. Instead of sitting on chairs, one would sit on the floor on a cushion while surfing the Net. An Indonesian friend told me that few Internet cafes have chairs.

Another major difference from Malaysia is smoking. Indonesia has yet to establish non-smoking areas. In a hotel lobby, it is common to find smokers. Even in air-conditioned rooms, there will be people smoking.

When I was in West Kalimantan, a friend warned me that half of the billboards I would see in town would be for cigarettes.

Another huge difference is with the university students. Unlike in many public universities in Malaysia where most students drive cars, especially those not staying in dormitories, in Indonesia most of the students ride motorcycles.

I noticed many Indonesians were very humble, even when they were unable to assist, particularly when it comes to someone like me who is different.

Though many Indonesians do not speak English compared to Malaysians, this did not prevent them from assisting with their limited command of the English language.

Youth activism in Indonesia is very strong. There is a huge number of young people involved in various causes and it seems every other month there is a youth conference or forum being initiated by the young people.

There is a strong link between the Ministry of Youths and Sports and the different youth groups.

I am currently attending the Global Peace Leadership Conference that brings together leaders from different parts of the world.

The conference will also discuss interfaith matters.

After the completion of this meeting, I will head over to Makassar, South Sulawesi for the International Youth Climate Forum. Indonesia has been good to me and the people have treated me like a king.

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