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A tribute to Indonesia

CANADA | Wednesday, 21 May 2014 | Views [358]

“Where are you from?” a friend of mine asked.

“Indonesia,” I said. He gazed up at the ceiling, as if picturing an atlas, wondering where Indonesia could possibly be on it.

“It’s near Australia? You know where Bali is?” I said, dropping clues.

“Oh yeah, Bali! Wait, I thought you said you were from Indonesia?” he said.

I knew where this was going.

“I thought Bali was in India.”

Maybe he had missed a few geography classes in high school, but I don’t blame him. At least he had heard of Bali, even if he got the country wrong. Perhaps it was rather difficult for him to keep in track of every country's cities or islands, no matter how famous, because this conversation took place in Canada, a country with people from all over the world, including me, who traveled 13,000 kilometers to Toronto from Jakarta.

One of the weird things about Toronto is that, try as you might, it seems surprisingly difficult to find a born-and-raised Torontonian who isn’t part Filipino or half-Hispanic or one-eighth German.

People in the city are forever asking, “What’s your background?” or “Where are you from?” before moving on to other topics like work and hobbies.

I am on course to graduate from Ryerson University, one of Canada’s leading universities, with a degree in journalism in 2015. Hopefully by then, even if Canada becomes even more ethnically diverse, all of the friends I have made here will remember Indonesia as more than just that country near the equator that looks and sounds like Malaysia.

“So, is it always hot there?” Sometimes hot doesn’t even come close to describing it, I thought.

“It must be so beautiful all the time there.” I thought they were out of their minds, because I’ve always tried to avoid going out in the sun. I don’t want to get a tan, though that was never really a danger because the heat kept me indoors most of the time.

Then when winter came in Toronto, I understood why everyone had difficulties understanding my remarks. In brief, living in Canada and experiencing its winters had me redefine the word ‘cold.’

Before I left for Canada, people joked about how earmuffs were a must. “You don’t want your ears to fall off,” a family friend said. “I heard it can get down to minus 40 degrees Celsius.”

Maybe global warming did me a small favor because the coldest it got during my first winter was negative 27. The rest of winter was acceptable; especially when it hit a relatively balmy 4 degrees and sunlight seeped between my blinds. Heaven (although in London, UK, I could imagine the city shutting down if it were to reach 27 below zero)

It would have been nice to be back home, knowing that I wouldn’t wake up at night because my toes were freezing. Then again, didn’t I use to complain incessantly when the sun seemed to unleash its full power on Jakarta?

Weather talk aside, people would constantly remind me of my homesickness. “You miss home?” No matter what problems I’m dealing with that day, the word “home” sends jolts of memories.

Some people think I get homesick because of my age. I graduated high school early, and they think people my age should still be living at home. It's very common in Indonesia for teenagers to go abroad to study. Even though times are slowly changing, most of these teenagers opt to pursue a business degree instead of a major they really, genuinely fancy. “Are you sure that’s going to make money?” seems to be the main question for Indonesians studying abroad.

I was fortunate to have parents who asked me, “What do you like? Choose that.” Now, I can’t imagine doing anything else, anywhere else. In other words, having almost fully adapted to the situation and the questions, Canada is now a second home. Perhaps it’s time to help my second home get more acquainted with my first.

Come to think of it, at least people don’t ask me what they used to ask my dad when he was studying in the United States back in the 80s.

“Do you have airports?" or "How long did it take you to get here by ship?” and most despicably, “Have you ever tasted this? You must not have Coke there, right?”

Tags: canada, culture shock, indonesia, usa

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