Bali Beaches, Istiqlal Mosque, Prambanan Temple, Sulawesi, Lake Toba -- who would not be captivated by these five must-visit places in Indonesia? These are some of the reasons why there are a great number of people who want to visit the “Wonderful Indonesia”, as stated in their Tourism tagline. I’m guessing everybody has already watched the movie Eat. Pray. Love. In that movie, Bali was destined to be Liz Gilbert’s (Julia Roberts) place for her to find true love. Maybe that explains why many people, including me, are captivated by the sheer beauty of the country.
Many kilometers away from the Philippines lives my new online Indonesian friend, Alif Lam Mim. His religion is Islam. He didn’t tell me about his age, for some reasons I don’t know. I also didn’t bother asking him about it, because he might get uncomfortable with it. I got to know him through the famous Facebook game, Mafia Wars. Alif lives in Kuta City. It is a district in southern Bali. He told me that his hometown is also a favorite tourist spot, especially of people from nearby Australia. As I researched further about his location, I found out that Kuta is actually an ideal place for surfing since it is where beautiful beaches are situated. When I asked whether I can ask him questions about Indonesia’s culture, this was what he told me, “My country has a lot of cultures, unique ones. You will love them a lot.” I got really excited to hear what he has to say about his country’s cultures, because he himself showed me how eager he was to help me out.
The Republic of Indonesia, just like the Philippines, is located in Southeast Asia. Its neighboring countries include Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. This country is one of the diverse nations. India, China, Arabia, The Netherlands and even Portugal greatly influenced the Indonesian culture. According to Alif, they have four major religions namely: Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Islam. When I asked whether there are conflicts arising between these four, he said there were some conflicts from small fanatic group of religions but those do not really influence the major religions. The conflict comes from having different idea and ideology. He also added that terrorism made a distance between Hindu and Muslim, in the past.
I didn’t ask more about his religion anymore, because I think it is a very deep and controversial topic. All I know is that Indonesia is the home of the world’s largest Muslim population. I’m more interested about Indonesia’s customs and norms. That part of their culture was where my conversation with Alif revolved. One of the fascinating things that I realized while talking to him was that he was not indignant to talk to me. I’ve also interviewed a Japanese citizen for the sole purpose of comparison. Unlike Alif, Ohara Masahiro was reserved and non-assertive. Despite some misspelled words and wrong English grammar, Alif still managed to convey to me what he really wanted to share. On the other hand, Ohara was very brief and concise in talking to me. He didn’t elaborate on the topic I asked him.
I found this article that I think is very helpful in explaining Alif’s behavior. It says that, “Indonesians have little, if any, sense of personal space or privacy. There is no word in the Indonesian language for ‘privacy’.” According to him, Indonesians love to talk and ask questions, especially. That is their way of showing their friendliness to the one they are socializing to. They think that lengthy discussions are important to achieve and develop respect in a certain relationship. Although they talk more, Alif said that for them, talking is impolite while eating dinner. He said that one can only talk before or after every meal.
Alif also let me know that for Indonesians, touching somebody’s head is a rude act. If you do so, you are being disrespectful. This norm is also similar with that of Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. They believe that patting somebody else’s head is a sign of arrogance, superiority and lack of respect. Speaking of respect, we Filipinos also have similarities with Indonesians, not just with the way we look, but also with the culture. Like Filipinos, Indonesians also value their family the most. For them, family life is very important. Like us, they also have respectful titles for every family member. They don’t also call the older ones just by their names. The father is called bapak, while the mother is ibu. Titles are important in Indonesia, because they indicate status. Indonesians should be addressed by their title followed by their name. One must respect the elders, and the social and political superiors. They also give honorific terms like “tuan” and “nyonya” to the foreigners.
Another remarkable topic that he raised during our chat was the behaviors that are not acceptable in their culture. Alif said that public display of affection is prohibited for them, even when you are already married. There should be no public contact between the opposite sexes, except for their standard greeting – the handshake. On the contrary, people of the same sex can have a customary physical contact. For them, it is very much normal. With this revelation from Alif, we’ve realized that they are also conservative like us. We also abhor brazen display of affection among couples, because our country is generally traditional. Meaning, our ancestors have taught us, especially the women, to act in a way that will give you the respect you deserve.
Alif also told me that when people of the same gender hold hands, nobody would care because for them it is a sign of camaraderie. Here in the Philippines, only the women are allowed to do that. Filipinos are undoubtedly malice, so when two men are caught holding hands, we immediately jump to conclusions that they have a deviant sexual preference. However, we do not have the same case with the Indonesians. For them, whether you are a man or a woman, as long as you are of the same gender, you are not forbidden to have a conventional physical contact.
Because we only had a limited time to chat, we only discussed about those that we’ve mentioned. Alif was also busy with his work in a Broadband company in Indonesia. Despite the short chitchat we had about their country’s culture, I am still grateful for his time because I absolutely learned a lot of notable things about Indonesia. I thought it was a bit hard exchanging a few words with people outside our comfort zone, but I was wrong. With the advent of social-networking sites, we have gained the chance to conveniently connect with wide range of diverse individuals all over the world. Big thanks to Facebook for making that interview possible.
Images in this post are not intended for copyright infringement.