Saya bisa bicara bahasa Indonesia. May 2017


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My ability to speak a few limited phrases in the Indonesian language has been the greatest thing ever! Many folks continue to react like I’ve performed a magic trick, when I’ve just said “good afternoon,” but apparently my pronunciation is good (or more likely, possibly just better than some tourists, and/or they’re being polite). When the person I’m speaking with gets super excited, if I just say one or two of the other very simple phrases I learned (“please don’t make it too spicy” “it’s a pleasure to meet you” “may I have a bottle of water?”), it can be the reaction a group of parents give to a small child, or dog, who has performed a trick. The guidebooks did say the Balinese are super friendly and will want to ask you many questions about yourself and your life (true so far), but the fact that I can say the names of food (chicken, pork, fish) continues to be greeted with delighted laughter.


About a month before we left for this trip, I remembered how hard it had been, when I was in Borneo ten years ago, to learn Malaysian. Took us almost a week just to remember “good morning” & “thank you,” and that’s about as far as we got. So this time I started looking online for a language program. Bahasa Indonesia was not on DuoLingo, but I found The Learning Indonesian podcast. It was free and it was great!! After only using it for three weeks (they’re 8 minute episodes. I’d listen a few times a week when commuting), I’m surprised at how quickly it prepared me to actually be conversational. (I mean, it’s really basic stuff and sometimes just a few broken words, but my point can generally be made). And because it’s audio based, I think that really helped with my pronunciation, as I just learned it by ear.

Jessica has started calling me her tour guide. *smile*

Want to know a great way to concern your waiter? Order the chicken satay but the vegetarian noodles. She was so worried, trying to verify and make sure I knew the chicken satay had, well, chicken in it. But I was able to say “No fish. Yes chicken.” and she looked so relieved (the noodle dish was offered with seafood or tofu). Also, she spoke beautiful English herself, I found out a few stumbled sentences of Indonesian later. Ha. Still, it’s fun. 🙂 The food was delicious, too, at Laughing Buddha in Ubud. Cute spot, with live music at night, although I was there for lunch.


The other common response to my tiny bit of Indonesian, after they express surprise, is a suggestion or command that now I need to learn Balinese. (“Like, that’s great you speak Indonesian and all, but now learn this whole other language right away”). This is then followed by them speaking a lot of phrases very quickly (flashbacks to my trying to “pick up” Malaysian in Borneo). Slow down. It’s too much and too fast. It’s all in good spirits, though, and it’s from folks who all speak Balinese and Indonesian (National language) fluently and then have some English for working around tourists. And maybe even more languages. The groundskeeper we chatted with at Monkey Forest, after learning Jessica was of Korean heritage, explained he’s learned Korean because their are many tourists from there as well.


Mostly it seems folks are super proud of their island and heritage, as they should be, and so they want me to learn their native tongue, too. Rather than just the national language of all of Indonesia. Plus, since Bali is the only Hindu island, they’ve always set themselves apart a bit.


People continue to ask how long I’ve been in Indonesia, or how many trips I’ve taken before. When I say it’s my first time and/or that we just arrived 3 days ago, they are so puzzled. How did you learn? And I just tell them that I learned it on the Internet. 🙂 Which sort of stymies the conversation for a moment. But it’s the truth and I don’t have a better response to offer. But it’s clearly not a reason they’re given often.


One of the hotel employees was telling me my use of Bahasa Indonesia would be very useful at the market, because my ability to ask “what is the price?” & then respond “too expensive,” will make folks think I’ve been in Indonesia for awhile, so they’ll only try to overcharge me a little bit, rather than a lot. I don’t know if that was entirely true, but I’m pretty happy with my two purchases today. Also, I’m just not interested in bargaining hard over a few dollars. I mean, it’s expected and kind of fun to do the back and forth. But I just don’t mind paying $8 for a wood carving, even if I think maybe it should only be $5. The minimum wage in Bali is around $150 us dollar per month! (& for rice farmers and others without an employer, I’m sure there’s no guaranteed wage). So a few extra dollars is big to some here, and won’t affect me. (also I have no frame of reference for handicrafts pricing here. Maybe that statue should only have been $2. But if I’ve negotiated down to a price I’m comfortable with, there’s just no need for me to worry about whether someone else might get it first cheaper.


I believe that it’s my job to tip generously and occasionally be overcharged when traveling, esp in the developing world. People have to make a living. And tourism is a big industry.


And my, “use Indonesian to sound like a long time resident” plan is dampened by the fact that the numbers and prices are so large. One US dollar is $13,300 rupiah. And all prices are basically in tens of thousands & hundred thousands. And I’m still very slow at large numbers. Ha. But folks have been very kind about repeating the price slowly (“one hundred and eighty thousand”) or they just then say it in English. *laughs*

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