Echoing Joylani’s post a couple weeks ago, I’ve found that Indonesia is similar to India in many ways. This isn’t to say that its just like India, but its more similar than not. Demographically, the similarities are easy to grasp. India is first or second most populous nation in the world, 80% Hindu, 10% Muslim, and the rest being mostly Sikhs and Christians. Indonesia is the fourth most populous nation worldwide, with 250M inhabitants, 88% Muslim, 8% Christian, with the rest either Hindu or animists. Both nations are incredibly diverse ethnically and linguistically, but are ruled by Hindi-speaking, north Indians from Delhi and Bahasa Indonesian-speaking Javanese from Jakarta, respectively. Both are relatively poor and overpopulated. Both are fighting ethnic separatists; India in the northeast and Indonesia in its eastern islands. Colonial history and other similarities aside, the places feel similar too.
People are friendly. They’re more physical when they speak, with lots of pats on the shoulder or back (male to male only). Joylani said Indonesia is the true land of smiles, as everyone is always smiling. Children want their photos taken and adults will ask to take a photo of you, if you’re a novel foreigner like me. Everything is negotiable and flexible. People are always striking up conversation and asking questions. Its sometimes difficult to not be guarding with answers or defensive when speaking though, because like India, many people are trying to sell something. India and Indonesia are both overpopulated, poor countries, with similar economic challenges. You can’t walk past a shop without hearing, “Yes, looking…” or past a car without the hearing the oh-so-familiar “Taxi, taxi…I make cheap price for you.” Everyone is trying to sell you junk, from coconuts to textiles, and everyone is trying to overcharge you. Commission rules here. That’s why we’re a lot more defensive here, because people are friendly, but at least half of the time, they’re just trying to sell something. But the other half of the time, people just want to talk to us for the sake of talking, which hasn’t occurred to us in many other places.
The thing I like most about Indonesia though, and also something I appreciate about India, is its size. Not for size alone, but for the diversity that comes with that. Although not even close to India in terms of landmass, Indonesia spans a massive portion of the globe. Parts of it are visible from Malaysia, with other parts adjacent to Australia. Its not a place that can be visited just once, for there is far too much to see on a single visit. On this trip, we picked Java, Bali, Flores, and Gili Air off of Lombok. But we’ve barely scratched the surface of Bali, I could spend weeks more on Flores, and we haven’t even really seen Lombok proper. For every overpopulated city and town on Java, there’s a remote sparsely inhabited paradise somewhere else in archipelago. I still want to visit Sulawesi and the Molukus, if not for the diving alone, not to mention the farther flung places like Sumatra or Papua, or the literally thousands of other islands within Indonesia. And although Joylani said she didn’t want to come to Indonesia since before our trip began, its surprised her and exceeded her expectations, with her going so far as to say that that Malaysia and Indonesia are probably the two countries we’re most likely to visit again. It’s a interesting and diverse country, with friendly people, and a lot to see. I cannot think of many destinations that offer more of nearly anything than Indonesia and am happy that Joylani wants to go back for more sometime.