A friend of mine (Kumar Alagappan) seems to have copied my idea of incorporating words from plays (like 'prologue'.. what next kumar - 'ACT 1' ??) in his posts, so I have been forced to adopt another fashion of literary address to my ever-increasing audience - that which is 'documentary' in feel.
This post is more of a documentary (following the adopted style) of my experiences and observations in Jambi than a recountal of my adventures. Hope you all feel a sense of shameful helplessness after having read what I have done and you haven't. (also, I hope that while doing so, you realise that there is no reason to be helpless or shameful about oneself).
As Richard O'Brien said it at least a million times on Crystal Maze, LET THE GAMES BEGIN. 1. Musings, Revelations, and Egotism
The tropics are a wonderful region! Here I sit at the entrance to my friend's house and look towards the street (it is raining like mad outside - and it is an amazing sight - bustling traffic and all).
I've been postponing this latest travelogue for the last 10 days. Of course, besides simple laziness, I can think of at least one other thing that kept me from blogging - no prizes for guesses - yes, I had succumbed to the viruses of this region - my body, incapable of fighting anymore, gave up on me 10 days back, and ever since then till now, I have been a 'little' sick - won't go into the gory (yes, gory) details - but let it be known that food poisoning was one of the bigger reasons for my discomfiture:).
The last ten days, in spite of my ailments, have seen an immense amount of activity. Been visiting the villages, and also collected useful linguistics 'data' . We (me and my friend) found a 'bahasa rahasya' (literally - secret language) that is spoken by some of the villagers (should have said 'discovered' - but if some people spoke the language, then, my guess is, some portion of mankind, namely the people of Jambi, already knew about it. we were just the first from the outside world to know about it. Same goes for my feelings about Columbus 'discovering' America - wish we were taught in a less eurocentric way. too bad.), also we identified other things in the dialects that have never been identified (something called vowel harmony). So, I proclaim myself a pioneer in some sense of the word. lol.
I told you guys before that I had to cross a river and stuff to get to the villages. Below is a pic of me crossing the Batang Hari to get to village called Tanjung Raden (more on this village blow).2. A Brief sketch of the villages
First of all, the village people usually live in wooden houses/huts which are raised on stilts! The houses are so cool (check pic out).
This was the house of my informant in the village MudungDarat. Cool village - about 200 families. lotsa fun. Highly recommend a visit there. lol.
The houses are built on stilts (very guessably so) because of the floods (every year). The typical height of the stilts is about 6 feet. What is surprising about it is that though the houses are raised to such a height, water still manages to flood their houses (by about 1 foot!!!) during the flood season. My immediate question was, why don't they just raise the height of these house - didn't ask anyone in particular. but maybe it's got something to do with the maximum height the logs can be used before the whole thing becomes unstable or something - doubt it though.
Something funny happened during my visits to the villages. Not being able to bear the physical strain of having their food anymore, I decided to tell them I was 'fasting' ('pwasa' or 'pwaso' in Indonesian) - when one of the families I was visiting invited me to lunch. And you can imagine, what happened after that. They asked me what I could have, I replied 'nothing'. They asked, till what time I was fasting, I replied, from 6 in the morning to 6 in the evening. The lies flowed. And with every lie, my belly felt safer - better couched in the soft cushions of my lies. and so, it went by - a food-less day, but I was happy, and so was my belly. Unfortunately, people have the best memories for the smallest things. So, the next time I went, the first thing they asked was, 'are u still fasting'. To which I replied shamelessly, 'Yes' (I added with a tinge of remorse), 'but, today is the last day'. Hoping that was the end of it, I let it remain. A little later while they were having lunch, and I watched, Ibu Marianna (Mrs. Marianna) said, ' you really are very religious. I admire your determination'. All this in Indonesian, and I replied 'makasi' (Thanks) feeling terrible.
Something especially praiseworthy about the village people is their tolerance for other religions. They at no time showed any sort of ill-feeling/surprise that I wasn't a muslim (about 85% of Indonesia are muslim) . Furthermore, they showed a pride in both their past and their present. They are muslims but the region had a strong hindu influence before Islam. They have muslim customs, yet they had many hindu names. Really, the village culture seemed to be more evolved to me (at many levels) than the 'culture' many modern nations exhibit.
A final note on the family of Ibu Marianna. They are the direct descendants of the Sultan of Jambi - one of the few sultans in Indonesia who actively resisted the Dutch till the very end. The dutch eventually prevailed, and the sultan and his family had to live in ignominy in a small village (which is now called TanjungRaden). The point I wanted to highlight was that this family inspite of its grand history didn't seem to show any remorse/self-pity... They just seemed to be proud of their ancestry, and that was that. I don't know if this is a natural thing or not, but when i saw it, it struck me as something that was worth a mention.
Overall, my opinion of the villages of Jambi and their culture is a very high one. The people are wonderful, the food (though primarily meat based) is fantastic - also, my professor tells me that the duck that my friend's father makes compares with the best he's ever eaten - too bad i am a vegetarian. lol. And finally, the weather is decent. rains only when you want it too. never too much, and when it does, it is such a pleasure to watch it. Gets a bit humid now-and-then, though nothing as bad as Madras.3. Preliminary notes on modern Indonesian entertainment
The first thing I noticed when I started watching Indonesian television was the huge number of transvestites/crossdressers that were in the TV programmes. My first thoughts were, wow, these guys are really very tolerant. And then, the more TV I saw, the sharper the generalisation became, you see transvestites/... only in 'comedies' and comedy-oriented programmes. So, much for tolerance. Realised their lot fares no better in this country than anywhere else in the world. too bad for Ashwin. haha.
Moving on, I have to say modern indonesian music isn't bad at all! basically based on western pop/rock music, but really they have some good stuff. Bands worth check out are Peterpan (admittedly, a lame name:)), Garasi, ...(forgot the rest. lol).
Was lucky to hear local village music. Was cool. The guy I was working with, Eko, (around 20 years old) was really into music and could play the guitar pretty well. He and his mom (Ibu Marianna) sang a couple of folk songs for us, which I duly recorded:). Trust me, the songs are cool - lotsa fun.4. Maternity Issues
Something disgusting (maybe, 'shocking' is a more PC word) I noticed about how mothers take care of their kids:) (disgusting, of course, because I don't belong to their culture). This has to be announced to the world.
When an infant gets a cold, and his/hers nose is leaking, and it obstructs the breathing of the kid, the mother usually sucks the goo out of the kid's nose with her mouth!! And I saw this happen, and inquired if this was normal. Only to be answered with, 'perfectly normal'. I screamed 'YUCK!!!!!'. haha. It makes complete sense, and I see that when you can suck out snake poison to save another man, u can suck out snot to help your kid. It makes perfect sense logically. BUT!! I just couldn't take it. And each time I saw it, I screamed 'YUCK!!!!!' haha.5. Flora and Fauna
There is a special variety of banana here called 'Dragon Banana'. Cool to look at. Check out for yourself. (note the 'crowns' they have).
Another peculiarity of this island (Sumatra) are the cats!! The cats here look quite different. The tails are docked (genetically so - they are born this way). And the hind legs are longer. The length of the tail varies from about half the usual length to almost nothing. The kitten was really cute - was following me wherever I went. haha. had to take a pic.:).
While on the topic of fauna, I saw a real Sumatran white tiger in a safari in Jakarta!! (They are very very very close to extinction, and do not exist in the wild as far as I know). Thought you guys would like a look at it:).6. Errata
A couple of linguistic errors worth mentioning are 'masaki' and '
The first day I was in Jambi City, I said 'masaki' in stead of 'makasi' (thank you) - the people around me had a good laugh.
While in Jakarta (last month) my professor told me that one of the biggest local 'myths' (note 'myths') about foreigners is that they confuse the words 'kepala' (head) and the word 'kelapa' (coconut) for one another. I, at the time, thought it was funny. A couple of weeks back, I ensured that the locals continued to have that opinion of foreigners. haha
I have to say, the above errors were completely intentional. made solely for the sake of humour. what can I say - I am a funny man. (yeah right!!!)7. Until Later
While we were on our way to Tanjung Raden, the boatman wanted a picture of him taken. Thought it would make a great 'Until Later' picture.
A couple more picture that are worth a look are the Jambi City port on the Batang Hari, and the banks of the Batang Hari which as visible in the pictures are madly picturesque - the pictures don't do justice to the madness - it is really amazingly 'flora-nated'. When I saw Jambi from the air, it really was a green carpet. (Note, Oman usually is a lovely golden-brown from the above mentioned vantage point. haha)