This December, my parents came to visit me in Indonesia. They couldn’t stay over Christmas because of my 6 nieces and nephews–their grandchildren who needed Santa and Mrs. Claus to make their Christmas complete back in North America.
But I was so excited to host them in my new country for a time. I spent hours planning our 10 day trek across 3 islands (actually 6 if you include the 3 stops the fast boat to Gili Trawangan made on its route).
I hoped they wouldn’t regret the almost 24 hours of travel, the jetlag, the expense . . . it was the best Christmas gift ever. What I couldn’t predict was what would be most memorable. For me, it was seeing Indonesia again through their eyes. Here are some highlights from my perspective:
- The reactions to insane driving. My dad would drive in New York City when we lived in New Jersey for awhile, no problem, but from the back seat of a car operated by a local driver, I overheard comments like, “I think we just took out that guy on the bike,” and “How fast are we going?” and a couple of winces as the car attempted to pass slow-moving vehicles by lingering in a lane of oncoming traffic. In contrast, my parents also enjoyed friendly exchanges with our various drivers.
Experiences in various transportation. From Mercedes Silverbird taxi at the airport to train across Java to mini-van around Yogyakarta to plane over to Bali to fast boat to Gili T to horse drawn cart and bike around Gili T (where there are no motorized vehicles) back on a plane and then onto an airport bus transport then back in taxi . . . one of the only vehicles they missed was an ojek (motorbike). However, they relished taking pictures of the stream of ojeks as they surrounded us at traffic lights.
- The treatment of bules (foreigners) as if they were celebrities. My parents absolutely relished taking pictures with the local children who approached them shyly producing cellphones at the ready.
The awareness of tropical birds and wildflowers. My dad is an avid birder and enjoyed listening for local bird calls and examining local fauna.
- The utter lack of any accessibility codes in Indonesia. Americans with Disabilities Act? That’s so American! My mom marveled at the scarcity of gangplanks when you disembark from planes. The number of stairs with no railing or ramps. The lack of elevators.
- The tropical downpours–my parents arrived during rainy season which didn’t dampen our spirits at all, as feared.
- The tropical heat. My mom could be witnessed in most conversations demonstrating how high the snow was (and is) in Michigan (back home) as the legendary polar vortex had already begun wintering in North America.
- The juxtaposition of the wintery holy holidays with tropical holiday culture. Sacred Christmas carols poured from thatched roof cocktail huts and Christmas trees were constructed in “spring break” style.
It seemed fitting as my life began in our family because my parents were international teachers. Now, they had come to visit me, now also an international teacher.