Home » All, Sumatra, Sumatra Part 01

Giving Me the Finger – In a Friendly Way

Submitted by on November 30, 2015 – 11:52 am

Monday, November 30, 2015

Rain? Yes. Traffic noise? Yep. Hot cup of coffee by my side? Of course. Feeling good? For sure.

Yesterday was a lazy day as far as exploring is concerned. I didn’t do any at all. But it was still an interesting day. I spent much of it organizing a lot of the photographs I’ve taken recently. I’ve also gotten a lot of new friends on Facebook, and I was kept busy chatting with them and sending messages back and forth. That has been a totally new experience. In the past, there were no such things as Facebook and digital cameras. But now, everyone has a smartphone and a Facebook account. So people take my picture with their phone, and they post it to their Facebook account. Sometimes they know my name, so they tag me and then I get to see my picture on their Facebook page. Their friends also see the pictures, and they are curious about this foreigner. They all track me down and they all ask to be my Facebook friends. I’ve noticed that a lot of people take the pictures from my Facebook page and use them as their profile picture.

This adds an uncertain element to my Facebook life. Normally, I would just be posting pictures and writing comments for my friends in Taiwan or in Canada. So it didn’t really matter what I said or photographed. But now all the local people see the pictures and read what I write. So I have to censor myself a little bit. I don’t want to be rude or hurt anyone’s feelings. For example, I posted one picture in which a teenage boy was giving me the finger. I commented on that saying that “the boy in the blue shirt” was giving me the finger. Then later on, I got a message on Facebook. It was from this boy. He said that he was the boy in the blue shirt and he hoped that I wasn’t angry. He said that it was just the style of young people to do that. He wasn’t really giving me the finger. Just having fun. His actual message is quite interesting to read. Here it is:

“I’m sorry of magnitude sir, I is wearing the blue shirt is not intended to insult the master, it’s just the style of the young people master, once again I’m sorry yes sir.
I want to be a friend of my host. ok”

I wrote back to him, of course, and told him that it was okay. I wasn’t upset. I said that I knew he did it just to be cool and have fun with the camera. The language in his message is interesting, isn’t it? It gives some idea of how confusing it can be communicating with someone here. He uses words like “master” and “host”, and those words have strong meanings in English. But he certainly didn’t mean them that way. He was just trying to be polite. (It occurs to me now upon rereading this that he might not have meant “master” at all. It was probably just a spelling/typing mistake, and he meant to write “mister”. Everyone calls me mister here.)

It actually gives me a lot of pleasure when a lot of these kids seem to enjoy the pictures I took of them. My camera is generally quite a bit better than the cameras in their smartphones, so the quality of the images is better.

I dropped by the Samsung store yesterday afternoon to chat with Rea. That was an interesting experience as always. She has some qualities that make it easier to communicate with her than with other people. But she is also from this culture and doesn’t speak English perfectly, so there can be confusing and misunderstandings, too. The main confusion centered on dinner. I had eaten a late lunch, so I wasn’t hungry. However, Rea suggested that I go with her to get something to eat. I understood that she was going to get a meal anyway, and I could just go with her. I also got the impression that the place was right next door. We would just walk across the street or something. So I said yes. But, as always, I was wrong. When we left the Samsung store, Rea started up her scooter. So we were going a bit farther away than I thought. I got on the back of the scooter, and we went quite a long ways. I was worried the entire time that we were going so far because Rea wanted to bring me somewhere special. I always dislike that. I just want to go to a normal, simple place where everyone else goes. But local people often treat me as an honored guest and we end up at some high-priced and much less interesting place. But I needn’t have worried. Rea was taking me to the place where she always goes. It was her favorite place mainly because they had tables near a TV and she could watch TV there while she ate, and she doesn’t have a television at home.

The funny part came when we ordered the food. I had spoken to Rea a number of times about food. And we’d discussed at length multiple times that the one thing I didn’t like was seafood. I have foods I like and others I can tolerate, but seafood is the one type of food that I really can’t eat. Even as we drove to this restaurant, Rea was talking to me about food, and the fact that I didn’t like seafood came up again. Then we get to the restaurant, and Rea was talking to the women there and ordering meals for us. I just wanted mie tiaw, which is what I often have and which this restaurant was known for. So we sit down, and I learned that Rea has ordered seafood mie tiaw, and it arrives with this huge, horrifying shrimp. A mystery. After all of the discussions about how I despise seafood, the one time Rea takes me out for some food and even treats me to the meal, she orders seafood. Stuff like this happens all the time, and I never understand how or why.

I really don’t understand why people get so excited about shrimp. To this day, I don’t even know how you’re supposed to eat the monsters. They arrive on your plate exactly how they came out of the ocean – the head, the legs, the organs, the shell – everything is still there. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, so I took the first shrimp and just stuffed it into my mouth and started crunching away. I know it is ridiculous, but I have this visceral reaction to stuff like that. Maybe it’s the texture. Anyway, it was all I could do not to gag and bring it all back up. It was disgusting. I ate my second shrimp the same way, trying to get rid of it as fast as possible. Then I see Rea take a fork and a spoon and carefully cut off or tear out the head and maybe legs of her shrimp and then eat only the back shell part. She pushed the head aside and then went on to the next shrimp. After that, I tried to copy her, but the head of my shrimp never came off so easily. Anyway, it is hours later and I still feel kind of nauseated. Shudder.

There are hundreds of things I would have liked to talk to Rea about. I’m curious about lots of things about life here. However, most topics would have been too difficult. I did ask about a couple of things while we were at the Samsung store. In particular, I asked about the many TV dishes I see around town. They refer to them as parabolas. Rea and her staff conferred, and they said that it cost 700,000 rupiah (about $50 US) to buy one of those parabolas. They don’t rent them. They buy them outright, and they can only be hooked up to one TV. So a whole bunch of families can’t share them. There is also the possibility of cable TV. This costs about 100,000 rupiah a month ($10 Canadian). I don’t know if you get better or more channels or better reception with one over the other.

We also chatted about where else I should go in Sumatra. Rea (and everyone else) can’t stop talking about Lake Toba. In fact, she is going to Lake Toba next weekend with her sister. So many people have praised the place that I’m now less interested in going there. Even pictures online make it look like a type of tourist trap with boat rides, cultural performances of song and dance by local people, and other such things. However, it is certainly a special place. I did some reading yesterday, and I learned that it is the largest lake in Indonesia. It is also the largest volcanic crater lake in the world. This crater is the result of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in earth history. It took place 75,000 years ago and was a near extinction-level event (according to some scientists, though this theory is being disputed now). In any event, the lake looks beautiful, and riding my bike around it would certainly be worthwhile.

It makes sense to go to Lake Toba after Tanjungbalai simply because it is relatively nearby. But then there is the question of where to go after that. Assuming I stay in Sumatra for only the next month and a half (the remaining time on my visa), I have to choose between going north to Banda Aceh or south to the area around Bukittinggi. Rea is from Bukittinggi and she recommends it. However, she is recommending it from her cultural point of view, and she is thinking of the town itself and its tourist attractions (like riding around in a horse and buggy). When I think of that town, I’m thinking more of the area around it. It’s supposed to be a very beautiful mountainous area with lots of villages. That’s where I would want to go.

I’m more tempted, however, by the route through the north. Rightly or wrongly, it seems like the more scenic route to take. I can head north through the center of the island from Lake Toba and then return along the west coast. That’s assuming the rain lets me go anywhere in any comfort.

Getting a Haircut
Irritability and Mango Juice


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