You know you’re a local when…

I am nearing my 11th month of living in this remote fishing village, somewhere on the coast of west java, Indonesia… and I've changed.

The very fabric of my person has changed, the way I move, the way I act, the way I talk… has all developed to assimilate into my environment. I like to think that I’ve grown up a bit here, that I’ve become calmer, more relaxed, more centred as a human being – but I think that might be a little hopeful. My lovely Australian housemate and I spend a lot of time talking about what it is to live in a place like this, how it changes us, and how perhaps we leave a little imprint on it through the choices that we make. And we came to a decision today – however much this place feels like home, it is not OUR reality. We live here, we love here, we grow here and we go about our day-to-day lives in this place. But as much as we try to understand it, we can’t, as much as we think we do understand it, the reality is, we don’t. It’s something far beyond any language difficulties, it’s a cultural conception that we just can’t fathom, it’s not in our blood.

Our reality is a place not too far from here – but worlds apart. And there is something about that – the culture that you are brought up in that never leaves you. You are a part of it no matter how far you stray from your roots, you will always take it with you. You can be at home in a place that isn’t yours, you can stay there forever if you like, but there is a part of it that will always be foreign, and in saying that – you will always be foreign to it.

That being said… There are some funny changes that I notice in everyday life in myself that truly prove that regardless of not being able to completely assimilate – you can certainly become a semi local…

You know you’re a local when:

1. You choose to eat with your hands over cutlery
2. You can smoke, text, ride a motorbike all at the same time.
3. You would rather drive 20meters than walk.
4. You need sambal with every meal.
5. If there is no rice on your plate, it’s just a snack.
6. It’s not tea, juice or coffee without sugar
7. You can smoke a packet of cigarettes in a day and not develop a cough.
8. Everyone knows your name.
9. You get local price instead of bule price at the market.
10. People stop asking you when you’re going home
11. You are never referred to as a traveller, instead you talk to the locals about the travellers in town.
12. You never wear a helmet, you also never drive over 10kms an hour
13. You understand all the inside jokes.
14. The grommits share the waves with you even when the older boys aren’t in the lineup
15. Stomach aches, bali belly and chilli burn are things of the past.
16. It takes you only 2 bottles of bintang to get drunk.
17. When you do visit the city, you barely blink an eye crossing peak hour traffic, holding your hand out like an invisible force field does the trick every time.
18. You automatically remove your shoes before entering any room.
19. The 4am call to prayer from the loudspeaker outside your window doesn’t interrupt your sleep.
20. It seems completely normal that during the frequent rainstorms your roof turns into a water feature and your pillows smell like mildew.
21. You can eat Nasi Ayam (fried chicken, tofu, tempe, rice and sambal) every day, sometimes twice a day and not get bored.
22. You can’t even remember what it’s like to use a washing machine instead of the two hands you have had your whole life.
23. You have forgotten what people use microwave ovens for
24. You don’t own a single butterknife, not for lack of trying
25. Bread and Milk are a thing of the past.
26. You have attended weddings you are not invited to.
27. You eat tofu, rice and chilli for breakfast
28. You can drive a motorbike through wild weather, potholes, around moving cattle, children, slippery mud puddles and can lift up your feet to avoid snakes…. without having an accident.
29. Even the local oldies call you a local.
30. You can shower in cold water, from a bucket, whilst frogs jump on your feet without flinching… without even noticing…
31. You don’t mind being late. And you are never surprised when no one else is ever on time.
32. But… you don’t like to stand in a queue… it’s much faster to just walk to the front.
33. The local police know who you are, smoke cigars with you, encourage you to watch daytime soaps with them and talk about your love life.
34. You don’t think a motorbike is a strange family vehicle… there’s room for everyone right?
35. You can drive a motorbike with three people, four bags and a surfboard over a bamboo bridge in the rain… and survive.
36. You know the western world and you would never get along again.
37. You get takeout food when your sick, it consists of stirfried tofu, chicken, sambal and eggplant with rice… and it makes you feel better.
38. You buy snacks from the old lady in no shoes who carts around fried goods on the back of her bike.
39. You buy chicken from the market, even though it is sitting in the sun, covered in flies and a bit yellow around the edges… it never makes you sick.
40. You question the logic of paying more than $5 for anything…
41. You may not mind being late, that’s not only because it’s Indonesia, but you have nothing to be late for.
42. You dream about scrabble, checkers, uno, and whatever other game that you have been playing.
43. You can shell a prawn with one hand with ease.
44. You have your own book at the local haunt in which to write your bill.
45. No one expects you to pay today, why pay today when you can pay tomorrow?
46. You are no longer the subject of village gossip, but now you are privvy to it.
47. The Mama and Papa team from your favourite warung call you Sayang (darling) and kiss your cheeks every morning.
48. People have stopped asking you if your married and started asking when you are getting married.
49. There is no longer toilet paper in your bathroom.
50. You love it here… even if you don’t understand it.

So maybe we will never truly be local, maybe we will never really understand all the customs… maybe we will always be a foreigner that Indonesian tourists stare at, want to photograph, to touch, to yell out to… Maybe that will always be the case.

But maybe that’s ok after all…

Barefoot printing muddy stamps from here to there.

2 Responses to “You know you’re a local when…”
  1. Sparky says:

    I’m smiling as I read this, being able to relate to all this with such familiarity whilst slightly sad and almost homesick that I’ve been far too removed from it for far too long for it to be my reality anymore.


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