(day 2 of my short trip to Indonesia in September, 2005)
(continued from "Indonesia 2005 Day 1")
The bathroom was simple and very different to anything I'd seen before. A square room, tiled on all sides and on the floor. The front half of the small room; barely larger than a closet; was bare with buckets on the floor to one side and a drain hole on the other side. The left side of the back half of the room was the toilet, one of those squatting toilets commonly used throughout China. On the right side was a square water well, a brick and tile container of water, roughly three feet high.
There was no running water in the bathroom. Ipah purchased her water; used both for cooking and bathing; from a nearby public bathroom. Before I arrived, she had to carry the water from the bathroom to her home by bucket; two trips every day. During my stay with her, she purchased a hose and laid the hose down between her home and the public bathroom. Future refills would simply require connecting the hose to the public bathroom's water tap, filling up her well, and then paying the bathroom owner. It's entirely possible that this hose arrangement was only temporary, to be used while I and her other family guests were in town for the wedding. We'd obviously use a lot more water than just Ipah, her mother and her son.
That's not to say that I used a lot of water. On the contrary, I tried to use as little as possible within reason. The bathing ritual went something like this. Use the small bucket in the water well to gather water and douse it over yourself while squatting on the floor until every part of your body was wet (squatting so that the water doesn't splash all over the walls and the clothes hanging from them). Then use soap to wash yourself. Finally, use the bucket again to douse more water and wash the soap off. If we were to use this method here in Hong Kong in today's cold weather (it's barely 10 °C today), I'm sure I'd freeze. Fortunately, it's rarely cold in Indonesia so this wasn't a problem for them.
Ipah didn't need hot water to bathe although her mother and many of her neighbours did. There was no running water and no water heater in her home so hot water was provided by heating water on the kerosine stove. This was also true for the neighbours.
I thought this style of bathroom was only used in the country towns but soon realised my error when we visited some of Ipah's friends in Bali. Even in this comparatively modern part of the country, the bathrooms were the same although they had running water and didn't need to carry the water in from somewhere else.
Completely off subject, electric lighting in every area of Indonesia that I went to was very subdued. In most homes, light bulbs were only twenty to forty watts and very few lights were ever turned on at any one time. Electricity is not cheap so keeping the lights as dim as possible to save electricity was absolutely imperative.
Breakfast at Ipah's home introduced me to Indonesia's version of coffee. There are no coffee machines so forget about cappuccinos and the like. Indonesian ground coffee; not freeze dried like the coffee purchased in supermarkets in Hong Kong; was placed in a glass with a huge serving of sugar; at least three teaspoons. Boiling water was then poured over the coffee and the coffee was left to stand for a few minutes while the larger coffee grains sedimented to the bottom of the glass. It was definitely different to the coffee I'm accustomed to at home, but it wasn't bad although I did ask Ipah to reduce the amount of sugar used. It was far too sweet for me.
Perhaps because I was there, or perhaps because of the preparations needed for the imminent wedding, I didn't get to eat a lot of typical home cooked food. On the occasions that I did get to eat their food, it was spicy hot; which I like; and usually made with beef. We ate with our hands although forks and spoons were available if I wanted to use them. Eating was a matter of using your fingers to roll up the rice into small balls and then popping the balls into your mouth.
On the second day of my stay at Ipah's home, I was up at around 6am. Everybody else had already been up and about for at least an hour. Ipah's son was getting ready to go to school and her mother was sitting outside the front door watching the daily traffic of people walk by.
I decided to take a walk. Not long after beginning my walk, I discovered that I had an escort. Ipah's fiancé was following me, always five to seven steps behind me. It felt strange to have him walking behind me so I slowed until he caught up and we walked pretty much together for the rest of the way.
I later determined that Ipah's family was concerned for my safety in this small town. They were quite sure that a foreigner with no understanding of the local language would quickly find himself in a situation where the locals would be sandbagging or blackmailing him. I found this hard to believe but they absolutely insisted that I always had an escort whenever I went out.
Walking around before 7am, the town was already up and going. Students were going to school; many of them on bicycles, some of them in motorised taxi buses. Roughly half of the female students had head coverings. Some of the stores were already open and many people were either working or on their way to work. I repeat. This was before 7am!
Later that day, I went for another walk, this time with Ipah. We went in a different direction, walking first through an upper class part of town; just two blocks away from her home; and then through a lower class part of town down by the canals. It was a very nice walk, and it was interesting to see how the people lived. In this small town, most of the people knew each other so we constantly ran into people that knew Ipah. Interestingly, Ipah was often asked if I was her husband. I thought that was amusing but apparently, it's not unusual for the local girls to marry foreign men although judging from the number of foreigners I saw in the town; i.e., none; most of them move to another part of the country once they're married.
It's a shame. In every country of the world, people; especially young people; are gravitating towards the cities where they believe that everything will be better. Life will be easier. They'll have nicer things, nicer homes, better jobs and nicer friends. It's part of today's materialistic world and a result of the commercial society's marketing campaign. You're not 'in' unless you have the latest and greatest. (Apparently, according to a recent article in the South China Morning Post, the average Hong Kong person upgrades their mobile phone every year.) With the advent of television, pushing this ideal into the countryside is unfortunately easy and most people fall prey to the lure of its false realities.
Personally, I'd prefer the simpler life.