07 August 2009

The "Real Deal," Whatever That Is

One of the candidates for the title of this blog, before I decided on "Indo the Wild," was "The Motorbike Diaries."  It was meant to be a riff on the title of the Latin American film "The Motorcycle Diaries," which follows Che Guevara and a buddy of his as they embark upon a huge motorcycle tour of South America, ultimately leading Che to discover his true calling as a revolutionary.  I was going to change "motorcycle" to "motorbike," since in SE Asia (Indonesia included) everyone drives these little motorbikes around EVERYWHERE -- part of what, I've found, makes walking around Yogya fair game for classification as a death-wish.  Ultimately, however, after much polling of friends and family and a serious heart-to-heart with myself, I decided that "The Motorbike Diaries" was just too cryptic -- people didn't easily get the joke -- and was also not entirely accurate, as I do not yet have access to my own motorbike.  Additionally problematic was the fact that "themotorbikediaries" was not an available URL on blogspot.  I took that as a sign that, as is so often the case, my first idea was the best one.  Back to square one.

Last night, however, I finally got my first ride on a motorbike!  My housemate Emma, who is beginning her second year in Yogya with Oberlin's Shansi fellowship program, was going to meet some of the other Shansi fellows for dinner and invited me along.  And not only does Emma have dinner plans -- she also has a motorbike.  Score.  Queenie helped me borrow a helmet from the "kos" (women's boardinghouse) next door, and as I was zipping downtown on the back of Emma's bike with the fresh air blowing in my face, all I could think was, Now THIS is the way to get around.  It totally beat walking through the hot crowded streets, and I'm still pretty lost on the bus system (which shuts down at like 6PM anyway).  I might have to investigate this whole motorbike thing further.

We met up with everyone at this vegetarian restaurant called Milas, which basically services tourists (the menu was in both English and Indonesian, and there were a bunch of French people there eating too), but it was really beautiful and quaint, with a garden and fountain in the center and little gift shop on one side.  I met a couple of the Shansi fellows who are based in Banda Aceh on Sumatra (my friend Dylan is also posted there through PiA) but who are just visiting Yogya for a few days, as well as Brittany and Patrick, the first-year Shansi fellows in Yogya.  The menu had some really great looking American-type vegetarian dishes and I was tempted for a second, but I ended up ordering an Indonesian dish with pumpkin, rice, and fried egg (which was really delicious) for the sake of authenticity.  When in Rome, right?  Hanging out with the Shansi fellows at this restaurant that could have just as easily been in San Francisco as Yogyakarta, however, got me thinking about what it means to have an "authentic" experience in a foreign country.  It was probably the best time I've had in my five days here, because it was while eating dinner with them and talking about American stuff that I felt most at ease, safe, and comfortable.  A lot of my anxiety and sadness just washed away for those few hours.  And I couldn't help wondering where you draw the line between letting yourself have experiences that you know will comfort you in a new place, and pushing your boundaries to reach for that authenticity.

I remember struggling with this same question while I was in studying abroad in Spain as well, but I think my thoughts -- or maybe just the circumstances -- have changed.  While I was in Spain, I felt that my time there to get immersed in Spanish culture was limited, so I made a point to avoid as many American things as possible: no Starbucks, no American TV, no pancakes, no English.  But that was a very particular situation -- I was in Madrid with a bunch of other American students who were basically built-in friends, and Madrid is a big European city with a lot of American influence and presence.  And I was only there for four months.  Here, by contrast, there is very little American presence, and, apart from my housemates (who have their own separate lives already anyway), I have no built-in friends.  So when I caught myself feeling a little bit guilty for "indulging" in this evening spent with Americans eating Americanized food and talking about American stuff instead of being out having some really "authentic" Indonesian experience, I had to remind myself that my chances for those authentic experiences will come with time, and for now if a dinner with some American kids makes me feel better, then I shouldn't really feel guilty about it.

I woke up this morning feeling sad again (mornings are the worst, I've noticed, probably because I wake up and have to wrap my mind around the whole situation all over again) but I'm trying to hang on to the fun I had last night, and hoping to create more this weekend.  Also hopefully I can get to know Brittany and Patrick better (who have only been here for two months, as opposed to the year or two of all of my housemates) and then I'll even have some new friends to share those authentic Indonesian experiences with.  Maybe even on a motorbike.  

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