Bridging the Gaps: Recounting my 2016 travel experiences

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

—Mark Twain

I know it’s been a little bit too late for 2016 throwbacks, yet here I am, 2:06 in the morning facing my tablet with the keyboard attached. Calling it an epiphany or the sort would set the standard to high, so label it as you see fit—a midnight solemn thought race or even an insomniac rush-hour filled with creativity you have every now and then. It’s fine either way, so long as I got to keep writing, and you, reading.

If I can describe 2016 with one word, it would be rollercoaster. The year took me through some of the most ecstatic yet depressive, refreshing yet stressful, moments in my life. Lets just say that, from my 21 years of living in this planet, that one lunar-calendar year in which I began to really consider myself as an (almost) adult, is the most impactful. And the second word I would use to represent the year is travel, which can be considered as the one thing I did the most during one-year period.

During the year, I had the chance to travel to both local and international destinations in different range of time. Locally, I travelled to Surakarta (Solo), Semarang, Bali (Denpasar, Kuta), Surabaya, Malang, and Jakarta whereas I also traveled internationally to London, Edinburgh, and several cities in various states in USA (Philadelphia, Towson, New York, Lehigh, Washington DC). Somehow, when I listed those down, it seems quite a lot. Just to be clear, in selective destinations, I had made numerous trips for various reasons. And it sure requires a moment for me to process that all of those travels happened in one year.

Most of my travel trips during the year was because of my involvement in several student activities—be it joining workshops or competitions, participating in student exchanges, collecting research data for my part time job, or even interning. My trip to London was partially sponsored by a summer school scholarship, whereas the trip to Edinburgh was self-planned by my sister for our family. All of them happened in such short period due to my impulsivity in wanting to apply for everything all at once, and also the realization that I might not have any opportunity to travel again in the future (with most of them being paid-off by campus or institutions). You know what they say, YOLO.

So while the year had been filled with many unexpected travel plans, I encountered numerous blurred lines in the process—those cultural gaps people constantly talk about in reports. Though my trips differ in period of staying, my travel routines are pretty much the same—going to local hot spots, chatting up the locals on random local interests, and joining them for a night out in town. I suppose there’s no need for me to explain that I was quite overwhelmed with the gaps I happened to encounter. Surprisingly, though, compared to other destinations in my 2016 travel list, Jakarta and Bali set the highest hurdles.

Imagine what you want, but I know for a fact that, as a Yogyakarta-born Javanese person through and through, I feel more out of place in Jakarta and Bali rather than New York or London. Jakarta still won by a long shot, though in terms of what people nowadays call modern civilization, my hometown should be pretty much on par—or at least 11:12. Yet somehow, it didn’t feel as so.

I came to Jakarta by the end of October 2016, about two and a half months after I got back from London. Surprisingly, my overseas trip was meh, still within my expectations, whereas Jakarta offers surprises in each passing day. The atmosphere and ambience was definitely distinctive from other countries’ major cities. As I said before, it is neither Washington DC nor New York, but a wild, crazy, mash-up combination of both. Add a dash of Las Vegas into that.

I always thought that being in Indonesia would not give me any challenges and certainly would not satisfy my craving of surprises, yet I was, once again, proven wrong. It reminds me of something I said to the guy sitting next to me on my flight to JFK when he was asking me to describe Indonesia. It was this, “It is very hard to be described. I mean, you have a unique local culture stationed up in one region, while presented with a distinctively contrasting one in neighboring region. And just to be clear, Indonesia is an islandic country, which means that there are a lot of regions that doesn’t have any direct contact with another which undoubtedly produce a different set of culture as well. It makes Indonesia more of a salad bowl rather than melting pot in terms of culture—we can see the greens and tomatoes clearly, but they reside in the same place.” I am quite sure that it didn’t sound as sophisticated as I had little time to think back then, but you get the message. It means that you can never understand enough about Indonesia because there is always something new to learn everyday, everywhere.

Sometimes it occurs to me that, although I always refer myself as an Indonesian when traveling abroad, I cannot fully be an Indonesian—nobody can. My travel to various cities in Indonesia reminds me that I am not an Indonesian, but a Yogyakartan. I know nothing of the sort about other regions in the country, though have been quite familiar with so-called western culture since the booming of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. back in early 2000s. Maybe it was our ego that had considered to have learnt all of the ‘cultures’ needed to know about Indonesian major regions by reading history and geography books? Or maybe it was because of our own subsconciousness which label every part of Indonesia as having the same basic culture? Whatever the reason, it complicates us in trying to assimilate ourselves in other parts of Indonesia.

It answers my question of why I feel more familiar in foreign countries than other parts of Indonesia—even if it’s Jakarta. All of those so-called ‘developed’ countries basically have the same culture all around the world, the working market culture combined with essential living culture to support its labor system. In Indonesia, however, the system works in two separate layers—the always-working and high level of entertainment culture such as Jakarta, a more toned-down version of it such as Surabaya, or a calm and refreshing atmosphere such as Yogyakarta. I guess that is why there’s a common thinking that the people who live in Jakarta are the toughest of all. Challenging, but exciting at the same time.

Lintang Cahyaningsih

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