Jakarta Culture Shock

Well, “culture shock” is perhaps a bit overblown, but moving to Jakarta to start my internship, I immediately started to notice little things that were markedly different from my calm life in Central Java. Let me present them to you in a small list.

Obviously Jakarta is a melting pot and moreover isn’t a place where people would have spoken Javanese anyway. Still, it feels funny not to be able to fall back on my Javanese pleasantries when I want to butter someone up.

Bahasa Betawi
Basically, people really do say lu and gue here for you and me, which is weird because I’ve only ever seen that on TV. Fun fact: These pronouns are actually borrowed from Hokkien.

Food prices are so high! A meal that would have cost me less than Rp 10,000 now costs almost Rp 20,000. Ouch.

No driving
I’m only here for a short time, so I decided that it’s just easier to not rent a motorbike, though I think I would if I stayed here longer. Without a motorbike, I have to rely on buses and trains, walking, or Go-Jek. And I will say that Go-Jek has been amazing. No more bargaining with strange men over every single ride!

The first thing anybody every mentions about Jakarta is the traffic. And they’re right. Jakarta is full of bad traffic and traffic jams. What people usually fail to mention is that all the traffic causes a lot of pollution. Now, I won’t try to say that this is anything like China levels of pollution. That said, now that I spend more time walking around outside, I find that I wear a face mask a lot. When I don’t, I end of significantly more sneezey for hours afterward.

Water dispensers
For some reason, most of the water dispensers I’ve seen here have the water jug hidden somewhere inside the dispenser instead of perched on top of the dispenser. This is a little thing, but it’s still so strange. If the water jug is inside, you can’t see when it’s about to run out.

Already-brewed tea at a small eating establishment is apparently not a thing in Jakarta. Most of the time when I eat out and want my standard iced tea, I’m either handed a bottled tea or a glass with its own tea bag. If I’m lucky. One time I got a strange glass filled half with tea and half with a mysterious, clear liquid that didn’t seem like it was sugar.

Serat Yusuf, or how I spent my summer vacation

As I mentioned earlier, the first part of this summer I was in Indonesia just doing language study. I was lucky enough to get a last-minute scholarship, which meant that I got to study with two university professors in the Javanese department at UNS. It was awesome. My teachers were great.

On the last day of classes, I got to take a field trip to one of the libraries in Solo so that I could practice my reading. These days, Javanese is written in Latin script, but it also has its own script that was used up through the first half of the 20th century, so I needed to learn that too.

It was really interesting getting access to manuscript libraries in Indonesia. Technically, I could have just walked in on my own, but it felt too strange to do so. What would I say? What explanation could I give? So having my teacher bring me in and introduce me to everyone really helped. Now I feel like there’s a bridge and I can now go back to those libraries on my own.

This library that I visited on my last day is probably not like what you’re picturing. It was one room, with shelves to the ceiling covered with glass and low tables. When my teacher wondered aloud how they reach the high shelves, the answer was that they don’t put any books up there.

And those books? They were all manuscripts. It was totally exciting and also totally intimidating. Am I at the point in my studies where I can work with manuscripts?

The answer was apparently yes. My teacher asked for something unique and out came Serat Yusuf. A manuscript from 1729. And when I say from 1729, I mean that particular copy was created in 1729, copied from an earlier version. It tells the story of the prophet Yusuf.

Just looking at the manuscript was amazing (you can see a photo of it here. its opening pages were illuminated and covered in gold leaf. Though there was some damage from bugs, overall the manuscript was in very good condition. It was beautiful.

And then came the hard part: actually reading it. Four hours later, I’d gotten through exactly four pages and so far nothing had happened in the story. but a month before I wouldn’t have been able to read it at all, so I still felt pretty accomplished.