Indonesia Anonymus

We are a group of Indonesians, ranting about our beloved country. This blog is a result of many people grumbling about many things in many ways.
Feedback: indonesia.anonymus at gmail dot com


Anonymus is the Latin word for anonymous, the correct English spelling. The Latin spelling, however, is traditionally used by scholars in the humanities to refer to an ancient writer whose name is not known, or to a manuscript of their work. Read more at Wikipedia.

Our blog in Bahasa Indonesia (but rarely updated) can be found here.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The journey of a broken heart 3

3. Feel like a fool

(Note: this is part 3 of 'the journey' series. To read from the beginning, click here.)

I started my trip at the inter-city bus station. So there I was, standing there, looking around when suddenly it hit me: I have never done this before. (I do travel, but mostly by flying, and a couple of times by train. But never by inter-city bus).

That means, I did not know which bus I should take, I did not know where I should go to buy the ticket and I did not know how much the ticket would be.
And the worst part is, it seems I was the only fool in town. Everybody else seem to know where to go and what to do.

Unfortunately, it did not happen just once, because as I travel from one city to another, almost in every city I was back to being clueless: I did not know which one to take to go to where I wanted to go, and when I knew, I had no clue how much it would cost me.

(Sure, there was one time when I could see the price posted on a local angkot. But then when I paid exactly that price, the driver got mad. Apparently the price had changed and they did not bother to change the sticker.)

And the story did not end after I managed all that and got on. Because I still needed to know where to get off, to go to where I was going. Along the way, I ended up asking a lot of questions to a lot of people.

In short, I am a foreigner in my own country. I can't imagine how foreigners who visit Indonesia would feel when they had to take public transportation to get around. How do you ask question when you don't even speak the language?

You don't feel good when you are clueless. And you feel worse when you think you are the only one who had no clue.

Before this, I always thought a good public transportation would mean something that is efficient, on time, fast and comfortable. Now I realize, there is one thing that is more important.

A public transport is good when you can get from point A to point B, without having to ask a single question.

Sure, efficient, on time, fast and comfortable are all good. But if the system is confusing, a first timer like me would still find it annoying.

I know I should stop comparing what we have with what other country has, but bear with me for a moment. The first time I visited Japan, I had no experience in taking its public transport. But I could find out easily which one I should take, how much it will cost and where I should buy the ticket. Bear in mind that I do not speak or read Japanese, and outside Tokyo not all stations post the sign in english. But the signs are equipped with pictures and symbols that even I can understand it right away.

A system is good when even an illiterate first-timer fool like me can understand it.

So maybe, this is why people said good things about public transport in some developed countries. Sure, they may be fast and comfortable, but above all, the system don't make you feel like a fool.

We all want better public transport in this country, and we started with the busway, people talk about having a subway system, even dreaming about high speed train. They are all nice, but they are also a departure from what we have now. As if we want to ditch whatever we have because they are bad, and just start with something completely new.

Sure, why not. But creating an efficient, on time, fast and comfortable takes time. And money.
In the meantime, we still have to live with what we have, and actually we can make it better by simply posting clear signs at bus stations and bus stops, displaying the route and the ticket price clearly on buses and angkot - And be consistent with it.

Design it for a foreign illiterate first-timer fool such as I am.

When everything is clear, taking a local public transport in a small town actually has its charm.
More than any subway or high speed train can offer.


Friday, December 18, 2009

The journey of a broken heart 2

2. The toilet psychology

(Note: this is part 2 of 'the journey' series. To read from the beginning, click here.)

One bad thing I did not realize until too late about taking this trip was that it will involve using public toilet. A lot.

I have been fortunate all my life. My parents are well-off and they protected me really well. They made sure my world is a comfortable world. That's both good and bad. Good because it allowed me to become who I am today (and I can't complain about that), and bad because now I am caught unprepared to live with this one little detail: The world of dirty stinky public toilet.

Some of you may find this ridiculous. Well, I am sorry. Obviously I have been living in a bubble all my life. A bubble where toilets somehow always magically clean itself before I enter.

So the first time I stepped into a public toilet, I thought I have just died and went to hell. In fact, if God is to punish me for all my sins, He would not burn me to eternity. Somehow, that seems less scary. Instead He'd probably send me to a dirty smelly slimy public toilet, with someone outside banging and yelling at the door, telling me to do it quicker. Now that's hell.

So why am I telling you this unpleasant experience?
It's because while sitting there, I realized something.

You see, when you go in, you may not stand the smell and the sight of it. It's dirty. It's stinky. It's disgusting.

But after a while, after you just can't hold your breath anymore, you start to accept it, and guess what: slowly but surely it is not that stinky anymore. Everything is fine. It's all ok.

Now I understand why our city is dirty and why our river is full of trash. Because somehow, after a while we just accepted it. We got used to it. Everything is fine. It's all ok.

And there is more:
Once you leave the stinky toilet for a while, your sense of smell recovers and the next time you come back to one, you realize (again) how stinky it is and you have to start the whole reconditioning process again.

And now I understand why some people (yes, me included) who just returned from a travel abroad, suddenly turned into a complainer, saying how bad things are in comparison to the country they visited.
(A short stop at Singapore's airport with its indoor garden, children playground and internet access, and suddenly Jakarta airport with its liquor ads and dirty bathroom looked incredibly ridiculous. One experience of taking the always-on-time shinkansen and suddenly taking a train at home is like going back to the stone age.)

Now wait, this does not mean I am comparing our country to a toilet.
What I am trying to say is once you are used to certain things, your point of view changes.
And when you step out of it, you hit the reset button and gain back the perspective that you once had.

But even this has a limit. Because after 3 weeks of going in and out of public toilets, I got so good at it that it does not bother me anymore. Not one bit. I am so proud.

And that made me think:

Maybe this is why it's so difficult to fight corruption in this country.
We've been stuck in the corruption toilet for way too long.
We know it's stinky, we know it's dirty. But hey, that's how we do our 'business' all this time and we're used to it.

Everything is fine. It's all ok.


The journey of a broken heart 1

1. Introduction

My name is Al, and as my colleagues have written previously, I just got back from my 3 week leave, taking a trip from west to east of Java, using only public transports.

Before I start, I thought I should clarify a few points first.

Number one, I am not a writer. I don't write and I am bad at it. So the "journey of a broken heart" posts you are about to read all have been kindly edited, some reworded, to fit the style of this blog. The thoughts are all mine, the hardwork of editing and rewriting to make it comprehensible is not. (thank you, Desi).

Number two, I don't keep a diary and this is not a travel diary. Everything was written after I got back, and I didn't really keep notes along the way. Therefore, this is more of "collections of thoughts", rather than chronological events. This is not going to be the "day 1, I did this, day 2, I went there" kind of writing. If you are expecting that, I am sorry to disappoint you. (But at least I have told you beforehand.)

Number three, I may not be able to name all the cities I visited. I did not have a travel plan, I never thought I would write about it, so I did not really keep track and some cities do look and feel similar and that blurs my memory a bit.

Number four, I did say I would only take public transports, and that I did consistently. I did not say however, that I would go on thrift budget. Whenever I needed to stay the night, I stayed at the most decent hotel I could find. This was not a backpacking trip, and after a rough day, I need at least a hot shower and a good sleep. So if you expect a story of a lonely guy writing about his suffering, this is not it.

Number five, some colleagues here at indonesia-anonymus find it hard to believe my story. They think I am just way to spoiled to do a stunt like this. Some think I made all this up.
Some of you may feel the same. I don't blame you and I am not asking you to believe anything that I tell you. All I can say is at least my life is not boring. Is yours?

Number six, I would be lying if my intention of taking this trip is solely to see my country. The fact is I've never taken any leave since I started working and my leave days started to accumulate to a point where HR said "if you don't use it you'll lose it". So I thought I should just go crazy for 3 weeks and after that I can go back to work in peace. The truth is, if I were not forced to take my leave, I would prefer to just go to work. This trip is not purely out of love, I am not that patriotic.

Number seven, I didn't do this because of a girl.
Well, ok. I did.
But she moved on and I did too.
I think.


The journey of a broken heart

Our young colleague, Al, is brokenhearted. His girlfriend dumped him, saying he spent too much time at work. to add salt to the wound, she is now planning to marry the rebound-guy whom she met not long after she left Al.

Al is devastated. One secretary claimed she saw him crying near the water-cooler. Al denied it.

But not all is lost: His hardwork paid off and he just got himself promoted. But even that did not make Al feel better. So one day after the promotion announcement, Al said:

"You know, I've never taken a day off since I started working here. Not once.
So now I am planning to take 3 weeks off and travel."

Sure. Why not. No surprise there. But then:
"I am going to travel the Java island, going east, taking only public transport."


Now here's a thing you should now about Al. He is one of those who people call "winning the uterus lottery". He is born into a wealthy family, with no sibling, educated in private schools from elementary to high school, went to one of the most prestigious university in Indonesia, got his postgraduate degree abroad, and went back only to land himself on a nice cushy job with good pay. In short, life has been very kind to him. Al is one lucky son of a gun.

"Taking only public transport? What do you mean? You don't even take public transport to come to work!"

"I am going to do it. Just public transport. Buses. Going east. Visit the cities along the way. Once I reach Surabaya, I'll head home by train."

"How are you going to get around inside the city you visit?"
"Public transport. No renting a car, not even a cab. It has to be something that I ride with other fellow passengers."

"Have you ever done it before?"
"Have you gone backpacking before?"
"No way you're going to make it."
"Why not?"
"Because it is not as romantic as it sounds. Dude, you can't even survive taking a bus in Jakarta for a week. And now you are going to do it for three weeks? In cities you have never visited before? For what? It's not because of losing your girlfriend, is it?"

"No! Of course not! Well..., yes. Partly. Because I think she is right."

"She said I am selfish. I only think of myself. And after some thought, I think she is right.
I have been selfish all my life.
All my life I have only worked on making myself comfortable. As long as I am comfortable, I am fine. Even when I do charity, I do it only to make myself feel better. To make myself look good. It's all me me me.

I've been lucky that my parents took me abroad a lot when I was growing up. I compare what this country has with what developed countries have, and I always think we are so bad at so many things. The corruptions, the horrible traffic, the terrible airport, the bad public transport, the trash, the list goes on.

It's hard to love a country when you only think badly of it.
And when I think of it, when I call something bad, it is because that something is not making me comfortable. It's all me, me, me.
Public transport? Not comfortable. Bad. Avoid it. Why suffer. I don't want to suffer.
I even avoided going to some cities in Java just because they have no nice hotel.

And the more I avoid it, the more I don't understand it, and the more I criticize it.
So now I am going to try the opposite. I am going to embrace it."

Yeah right. One rich boy taking a trip to find the love to his country.
That's just way too corny. Please. Somebody shut him up right now.

But then three weeks later later, Al is back.
He did it.
And he has some stories to tell.
And he'll write them here.

So watch this space.