For my last days-off I decided to visit my dad’s hometown in West Sumatra, hoping to get acquainted with the culture he is so proud about. My last trip there was 14 years ago. So there I was. Alone and no well-planned itinerary. I thought it would be great to just feel the ground and see where my instinct would lead me.
After spending sometime venturing to see other parts around West Sumatra, I headed to Batusangkar, the capital of the district where my grandma’s village Lintau is located. A night in Batusangkar then I went to the direction of Lintau. Lintau is a small village behind a hill with cool temperature. Although the infrastructure is not bad with asphalt roads connecting different parts of the village, there is no signal for my cellphone. A luxury I can appreciate for a limited period only.
When I reached my relative’s house, I was “strongly” advised to stay overnight in Lintau by Pak Tuo’s way of showing me my bedroom within minutes of my presence in his house. Then his wife, I called her Ma Gadih, while busy preparing lunch, managed to pop her head in the living room to give me a sleeping gown and toothbrush, so I cannot use my reason of “un-preparedness” to avoid sleeping in at their place. I gave in and decided to bid goodbye to my cellphone and thus my friends outside of this hamlet.
During my stay in Lintau, Ma Gadih took me around visiting houses of relatives who I’m actually quite lost on how I am connected to them. I met them and talked to them. Sometime about my travel, another time about my work, others asked about my college years but all of them guaranteed to ask me about my jodoh, life partner. Finding out that I have no VSO, they quickly shifted a polite conversation to a hot debate. From calm villagers they morphed to that of a passionate politician quality. Usually, in between those debates about my future I only contributed smiles. Some occasional laughs when one tried hard to convince the other that this candidate or that candidate is the better one. Often, Pak Tuo threw the question of who would be the best match for me. The question posed more to Ma Gadih instead of me.
“Well, he should have a similar background as hers,” Ma Gadih said.
“A ha. How about N? The son of ‘si …’” Pak Tuo replied.
“No,” Ma Gadih replied before Pak Tuo’s words vapor up. “No. He’s a snob. Ma don’t like him.” She turned to me. “You should know that we are all family. So when one keeps a distance, especially to his own origin, he is a snob. No.. no… we’ll find someone else for you.” She touched my hand as if assuring that I have nothing to worry as all will be taken care of by them.
After dinner, we positioned ourselves in front of the TV set. On the screen was news on celebrity’s divorces recently happening.
“Lala, what ever happens, don’t follow those actors yaa.. Get married and divorced so easy like that,” advised Pak Tuo. “And… don’t need to follow the trend, marrying a bule (foreigner). Indonesian is better.” I cringed. He continued, “next year, if you still don’t have a candidate yet, return to Lintau… Pak Tuo will cure you.” I cringed even more.
Then, there were streams of hopes and wishes flowing my way from my, as I was told, ‘considered as grandmas.’
“Ala nikah? (Is she married?)”
“Aah, then we have to match-make her with L, the son of ‘si ….’ in Pekanbaru.”
“Ah ya… ya…”
Most of the times, the conversations went on like that between Ma Gadih and other grandmas. I was just a background, completely soundless, and served only as a topic for them to chat away their regular greetings. Only towards the end before I got ready to brave another house, another grandma, then they usually asked my opinion.
“Mau kan? (Want it?) With L. I’m going to Pekanbaru next week. I’ll tell his mom. He is great. He’s an engineer, he works for bla-bla co… and he’s also doing bla-bla….”
The words slipped away from my consciousness as I focused to keep politely smiling. Another house, a different ambition.
“Find a Lintau man. They are good. Look, we have a successful businessman, doctors, government ministers, and more.. they are all from Lintau. Don’t forget, Setinggi-tinggi bangau terbang, surutnya ke kubangan juga. (No matter high the pelican flies, it would return to the puddle.)”
“La, all your grandmas here love you. Everyone wants to see you settle down. Return to induak bako (father’s side of the family) laaah….”
“Ya, so find a Lintau man.”
Some were authoritarian, others more liberal. Often confused.
“Bule ndak apo. (Foreigner is fine). As long he can be a good Indonesian citizen.. AND a good husband.”
And the debate continued. After awhile, I enjoyed their interest on my love life as an entertainment. Simply hilarious and out-of-this-world. Those conversations actually highlighted my pulang kampuang experience besides the fact that there was not a minute when I felt hungry as my extended families were very enthusiast to feed me. Although a yearly visit would be nice, but next time I think I’ll change my strategy in responding to the big question or else Pak Tuo will be very occupied to cure me.
Up on the 48th floor, standing in front of an oversized window overlooking Jakarta, my friend remarked “you should be proud of your city.”
“I do. But why did you say so?”
That was how discussion over the Big Durian began. It took place on my friend’s last night in Jakarta. She was in town just for a little over 2 weeks. So we went down the list of her adventure in the city.
I took her for a 3-hour body pampering treatment (aromatherapy massage, face relaxation, hair spa, and milk bath) in a local spa which in total only costs a little under 300 thousand rupiah (about US$ 35). Her remark on this enlightenment was “this is a crazy place.” She right away asked me to book her another appointment at the same place the following week.
I showed her how Jakartans treat their taste bud. The initiation started with a dessert sampler. The voyage included a trip to several street stalls selling from cheap Japanese-inspired food, indomie noodle (complete with cheese and corned beef on top), siomay, and martabak (both, the sweet and salty) to satay; to classy restaurants with high quality dining service. Then she had full-fledged West Sumatran food at my cousins’ wedding, Arab hearty meals, and samosa at my 24-hour favorite hangout. She couldn’t have enough of the myriad of juice offered here. The favorites were watermelon, honeydew, and towards the end she thinks avocado is a fruit too, instead of a veggie.
Then I took her for a storm in the local clubs and lounges showing her the truth and nothing but that we Jakartans love to party hard. She exclaimed “your clubs are so inspiring.! All of them have cool decoration.” She plunged herself to a mix of vodka with cranberry juice and just accepted a string of mixed Chivas which my friend passed to her.
Next, she couldn’t stop saying how people here actually smile a lot. I squinted at this at first but soon realized that what she said is actually true. I had a flat tire and 7 guys helped without asking for rewards. I asked for direction by the highway gate and the guy answered politely with a smile. And there are more.. more smiles I received in the last two weeks than my 2-month stay in a city I’ve been to abroad.
I have been trying to fathom myself on why Jakarta always has a soft spot in my heart. After officiated by my friend as the city’s guide, I started to acknowledge my main reason. I realize that the city’s problems, as frustrating as it could be, actually give Jakarta its “bad boy” charms. It has everything the bad boy represents – excitement, unpredictability and genuine emotional and physical danger. If Jakarta were a man, he’s not exactly the man you would take home to meet your parents. But his attitude problems give adrenaline rush and they are just so hard to resist.
Another friend asked my out-of-towner guest if she has missed Paris already, and she flatly said no. I think there is a new Jakarta aficionado right there falling head over heels for my bad boy.