Looking back on Bandung
I’m writing this nearly a month after returning from Indonesia. Most of the time it’s only after a media trip that I’m able to think about what actually happened. Media trips move very quickly. There is a lot of eating, a lot of rushing around and the days go by in a blur.
This is what happens on sponsored trips. You tweet about campaigns and promotions, post dozens of hashtagged photos on Instagram and Twitter (because that’s what you do on these trips), you frame and edit your photos to make them look as pretty as you can and you read the other bloggers gushing about the same food you ate and the same parades you saw.
But now that I’ve come home, I can remember stuff. On media trips, you’re preoccupied with looking at things and telling people all about them but at the end of the day, it’s usually the little things that stay with you.
To understand how Malaysians and Indonesians work, you would need to understand how similar and yet how different the people from these two countries are. Our staple food is rice. Our traditional costumes look pretty much the same. Our languages are also very similar. There are differences in intonation and pronunciation but generally, standard Indonesian is pretty close to standard Malay.
On the day of the Asian African Carnival, we were assigned volunteers who acted as guides during the procession. When they found out I was from Malaysia, two of the volunteers (both had relatives working in Malaysia) stopped speaking Bahasa Indonesia and switched to Malay when they spoke to me.
For those of us from these parts- Indonesia and Malaysia- adopting the accent of the person you’re speaking to is nothing new. It happens even among Malaysians when we meet someone with a regional accent. It’s something many of us do but not many know why. It could be our way of bringing ourselves closer to the other person or making him feel more at home. If you’re not from this part of the world, think of it as someone from Yorkshire, England, switching to a Welsh accent when he meets someone from Swansea. It’s bizarre, but that’s what happens here.
Anyway, so there they were, these two young volunteers speaking to me earnestly in their best Malaysian accents. Amusing yet unnecessary, because I love listening to Bahasa Indonesia. This went on for a while until one of their friends heard them. “You guys are speaking like Upin and Ipin!” he said, and everyone laughed.
Indonesia and Malaysia share other things apart from words and language. We also exchange TV programmes. One of these programmes is a Malaysian cartoon about a pair of cheeky five-year-old twins called Upin and Ipin, which apparently is very popular in Indonesia.
It’s a tiny detail, that they sounded like two kids from a cartoon, but I can’t help smiling when I think of that day.
Sometimes it’s the littlest things that stay with you after you return home. On our last evening in Bandung, a few of us decided to take a walk in the city.
I don’t remember whose suggestion it was to stop for ice cream before dinner but before long, we found ourselves somewhere along Jalan Riau, sitting by a mobile cart selling durian ice cream.
The durian – a large fruit covered in thorns and found in Southeast Asia – isn’t everybody’s favourite. Three pieces of fresh durian is usually enough for me but this ice cream in Bandung was something else. It was creamy and milky and delicious, with little fruit pieces in the ice cream, yet it wasn’t overpoweringly sweet. The ice cream seller served this wonderful concoction from his humble cart and we sat on stools on the pavement as people and cars and motorbikes went by.
I don’t get serenaded to very often but what happened soon after was that a street performer appeared. He was skinny, and dressed in a black t-shirt and black jeans. He smiled an awkward hello to the four of us, strummed his guitar and began to sing. In a soft voice, he sang about lost love, betrayal and heartache. Don’t they all?
This is how I remember my last night in Bandung, being sung to as I ate durian ice cream by the roadside with my friends.
After all the delicious food we were served with, all the places we were brought to and all the amazing rooms we stayed in, in the end, it was about the people, those volunteers and the man with the guitar. But it usually is anyway.
© 2015, Anis. All rights reserved.