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Jalan Jalan Jalan Jalan is about the time I have spent in Indonesia. Usually this involves me getting in to some unusual situation and then having to face the many cultural and language barriers to get out of it. Also, there are usually monkeys involved.

Lost In Translation

INDONESIA | Sunday, 18 March 2012 | Views [907]

Kindergarteners in the local sekolah!

Kindergarteners in the local sekolah!

So there are times when we think we know that the other person has understood what we have said but they haven’t, even when we are speaking the same language let alone when we are speaking in different languages.


SMSing in mixed languages can be very entertaining.


For example, the temple can often be misunderstood for a tampon. God/the universe/Elvis what ever you believe in knows that praying in a tampon can be somewhat uncomfortable.

Dinner that you have just bought for two didn’t actually include you but included the person you bought it for and their friend.

Sometimes ‘a little bit’ means that the person saying ‘a little bit’ results in them actually declaring themselves, ‘a little bitch’.

‘St. Patricks Day’ becomes ‘St Party’s Day’ which makes sense when you get the day mixed up in the first place.

Sitting and waiting for a friend for over half an hour may not be due to jam karet or rubber time in Indonesia but actually due to the fact that there you misheard or misread the name of the warung.

And it doesn’t just stop at verbal language but body language too.

If you happen to be seen with a person of the opposite sex maybe once twice or three times, you are now their pacar (boyfriend/girlfriend) or could even be considered their spouse.


I joined my English teacher Made Suwana on Thursday night, in an English class at the local banjar, Negeri. Seriously, Made has taught me more about English than Mrs Palagy ever did. It could also have been half mine and Hayley’s fault too considering that we nicknamed Long John Silver, Long Shlong Silver, after the casual teacher who happened to be teaching us at the time. Yup, that’s how I remember studying Treasure Island…

Made introduced me to the class, introduced the question words in English and then handed the class over to me.

And I thought I was just there for the food…


Made S had to remind me after speaking to the class for a couple of minutes that although we could understand each other at the speed we talk to each other, the students couldn’t.

It confirmed my realisation that communicating can be so fragile.

The class were really shy and even scared to talk to the crazy bule who had just hijacked their class. The thing is, I remember being that shy whilst learning Indonesian. I remember being too scared that I would make a mistake.

It really makes me think that whatever I wrote back in one of the first couple of blogs about the man with the bad Indonesian accent, was really awful. I can’t believe that I had a go about him speaking bad Indonesian. I know nothing about him. Just like you may know nothing about me right now while you are reading this blog. Ah well, nasi sudah menjadi bubur.

There’s that old saying, don’t judge a book by its cover. We can be too quick to judge people sometimes. And maybe both people are at fault. Maybe one person didn’t communicate himself or herself clearly and maybe the other didn’t listen properly.

In Bali, people are always asking questions about you so that they can place you in the status rank. Some example questions are: What is you name? Where are you from? Where are you staying? Are you married? How many children do you have? What religion are you?

Sometimes my friends and I just make up silly questions to ask people when we meet them so that we don’t have to ask or answer these questions AGAIN!

Some example questions are; what is your favourite colour? What do you think about having a coconut as the next president of America? Why do birds suddenly appear anytime you are near? Why did the chicken cross the road? What is the average velocity of an African Swallow….? Hahaha!

One expectation of bules in Indonesia is that we are all rich. I have discovered that money is a very sensitive topic. Now, that is true if you consider the differences in the average wage between a person working in Australia and a person working in Bali that bules are more well of. I won’t even get in to the fact that we have health care, centrelink and a university loan repayment scheme. However I do know people working, volunteering and/or studying in Bali, whos wage is the same or less than the average Balinese wage.

When my funds get low at the end (hahahah-okay the beginning) of the month and Pak asks me why I chose to eat the nasi campur that I just bought from the lady carrying the basket of food on her head instead of at the fancy restaurant over the road I don’t say because I don’t have enough money. I say that it is lebih enak, or tastes nicer. Which it is. I made this mistake once when an Ibu asked me if I wanted to but some manggis, the price was Rp. 13.000 for a kilo. I told her that I didn’t have enough uang and she laughed at me. It would seem ridiculous that I didn’t have enough money. I would never tell them that I’ve been selling all of my books at the local bookshop so that I would have enough money to eat all week!

But that’s just the way it is.

I was reading Siddartha a few months back and one of my favourite parts was when Siddartha went to the river and learned how to read it. All he did was listen and observe. He learned the ways of the river and earned much respect from the people crossing the river.

I like to remind myself now just to listen and observe and take things in rather than think that I know what I’m doing, take over the situation and exit the situation feeling empty.

Whilst learning how to teach language at uni, I heard a story about a person who lived next to a Japanese family and they had a four-year-old girl. Everyday this person would speak English to the little girl but would not get a response from her-in any language. Then one day after about three months the little girl started speaking English.

If we immerse ourselves in anything long enough we will learn it. Isn’t that how advertising works? Ooh I could go for McDonalds cheeseburger right now…

Its like if you listen to a song a few times and then randomly start singing it one day realising that you know the words.

I suppose it works the other way too; if we are exposed to something negative for a long time then it will have an effect on us too.

I realised the other day that for the last few months, I have not had anyone raise their voice towards me me and I have not raised my voice at anyone else (and I mean in anger not in the ‘yahoooo go Mokos band yeeeeewwww!’ way). So I haven’t been exposed to any angry vibes. This is the first time in my life that this has ever happened. And I realised that I haven’t had a need to be angry. Yes I’ve been frustrated at times, but not angry.

Anyway, I spent this night with Made S listening to the banjar meeting in Indonesian/Balinese and I realised that since coming to work in animal welfare I have learned to understand a lot of animal welfare-related vocabulary. It made me feel not so lost in translation for a moment.

Anyway, I do realise that as my brain soaks up Bahasa Indonesia, my Bahasa Inggris is deteriorating faster than you can ay antidisestablishmentarianism.

I saw Blacky The Dog (coolest dog in Ubud) the other day and someone had hang a gold chain around his neck. I immediately messaged Kum to ask who pimped Blacky?

Try explaining what ‘pimped’ means in Bashasa. Kum understood what I meant as I tried to menyampaikan via SMS, the image in my head of Minime singing ‘It’s a hard knock life, for me…’ with his large, gold clock swinging around his neck.

But I was successful; so stick that in ya pipe and smoke it.

Peace out


Tags: bali, english, in, indonesia, language, lost, sms, teaching, translation, ubud

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