Ever wonder what it's like to be a foreign tourist on Java? After being in Yogyakarta (the island's third-biggest city) for a few days, here are some musings to give you a taste:
1. Channeling Your Inner J-LawIn some places you feel like a cross between a three-headed freak and a movie star. People are staring, pointing, whispering and taking pictures of you and your family.
Then some of the bolder kids may come up and self-consciously ask for selfies. They're almost universally warm, welcoming, and very appreciative ("Thank you Mistah!). No sense of hostility or mocking--they're just excited to get a photo with you.
|Zaylie's not sure about all this|
2. Language Barrier? Just Smile MoreIn today's geopolitical climate, the attention also tugs an urge to act like an American good-will ambassador. Mr. Topo, our guide at the ancient Hindu temple complex of Prambanan, suggested that the Javanese kids' fascination with our family is because they're probably tourists themselves, i.e. visiting Yogyakarta from a part of Java that rarely/never gets foreign visitors.
So they may have never seen a white-skinned person before, especially tall females with uncovered blonde hair like Megan & Zaylie. We've all felt compelled to pose politely and be patient and friendly with the selfie seekers. Kind of like "See? We're nice! Americans aren't all Muslim-fearing xenophobes!"
The staring and selfie-snapping isn't unpleasant, but it's a little intense for the kids. Z's been a good sport, but it's a lot for an 8-year old to deal with so much attention from strangers. And what do they do with the selfies? Share them with their friends on Snapchat? ("hey girl! Look who I met today! 👀👄😃😍.")
3. But Stay on Your ToesLearning about Javanese culture doesn't stop with guided tours. From the moment we stepped off the plane to the mournful sounds of the 6:00 p.m. Adhan (the Muslim call to prayer), it was clear that Cultureshock 101 was in session.
First, there's the pervasive influence of Islam. Java is more than 90% Muslim (most of Indonesia's Hindu population lives on the neighboring island of Bali). There are six daily Adhan broadcast over Minaret loudspeakers throughout the day beginning at 4:30 a.m. (a good time to blog). Nearly all women wear a hijab in public. Indonesian national headlines are currently dominated by the blasphemy conviction of Jakarta's Governor. Lots of reminders that 150 million Indonesians live happily under laws and circumstances quite different from ours.
|We were actually first in line at this red light. Then the scooters showed up.|