Train Ramblings: How Well do You Actually Know About Your Own Country?

I‘m writing this in a moving train that is taking us back to Aberdeen. Yes, the train provides a free wi-fi service, which helps me to endure the 7 hours journey back from London. To think that most shopping malls in Jakarta still charge their customers for providing wi-fi service is ridiculous, especially when you have to buy different wi-fi cards on different shops. Sitting down in Coffee Club might not guarantee that the wi-fi cards I buy from Starbucks would work although they are in the same mall. Starbucks Plaza Indonesia’s wi-fi card wouldn’t work at the one on Plaza Senayan. Go to Cazbar or Eastern Promise for a free wi-fi. No frills. You just have to buy a glass of beer and smile at the gorgeous barmaids to obtain the password, and they will let you sit with your computer on.

London weather had been nice with a little bit rain here and there. Definitely warmer than Aberdeen, definitely much more busier which took me a split second to get used to see a lot of people in London Bridge. I was officially sweating (first time in a year!) when arrived in Swindon to visit an old friend and her family in Marlborough and realized that all I had with me was cardigans or long-sleeves t-shirts, unsuitable for south of London temperature and I should have brought my tank tops with me instead. If I complain that Aberdeen is quiet with only 250,000 people, well, Marlborough is only occupied by 25,000 residents. But it’s a lovely town, and is only 30 minutes from Bath (picture, left) one of the most beautiful city in England. Stuart was freaked out when I said I’ve fallen in love in Bath, because he thought I said Bart(ele), not Bath! But it’s just as terrible because the villas on the top of the hills easily cost several millions. Poundsterling, of course.

Anyway, since I visited most places by myself, I had more time to really enjoy everything, rather than put myself in a hurry like in Balmoral Castle and spent only less than 10 minutes wandering outside the castle (we didn’t even go inside) and had to go home because my companion was bored. Like most places, Roman Baths provides a free audio guide, a device shaped like a phone and all we have to do is to press the button according to the sign posters on each point and listen to the explanatory. What I noticed was when everybody else was busy listening to what the history of the bath and so on, most Asian tourists actually were rather busy taking pictures of themselves. Nothing wrong with that, except that they don’t even bother to listen to the audio tour. What’s the point of visiting a remarkable historic place if you can’t tell your friends what it is about?

I am no better. Suart’s aunty is visiting Indonesia this coming August and we have been busy planning which places she should visit. The reality hits me and I have to admit here – embarrassingly – that I know almost nothing about my country! I have been to Bali like a thousand times and I still don’t know many things. I had to look up on the internet to find out about where she could go to see a traditional Balinese performance and how far it is to drive to Kintamani, which I have not been to either. And I am even more helpless when it comes to Central Java. I know it will take about 2 hours to drive to Losari Coffee Plantation in Magelang from Yogyakarta but I was very vague about what she could do or see in Yogya. She has been reading several guidebooks and I assume she knows about Indonesia more than I do now. What have I been doing for over 30 years? And this is coming from someone who has learned about architectural history and has a degree in architecture! Shame, shame. I have to ask my mother who is like a walking catalog thanks to her habit of collecting information and clip them for years.

Come to think about history, Indonesians are – sadly – not good at preserving historical buildings. I remember how we visited an old house built by a Dutch architect circa 1825 in Surabaya and we designed the whole urban area with that house a starting point. Of course it was a utopia since we were students. Two years later I saw that building was turned into some modern, glassy, ugly building. That’s why when Alison took us to see Eltham Palace (picture, right), I was full of envy to see how Britain protects its heritage. Eltham Palace is full of gigantic wooden panels which must be crafted by the best men and is well maintained. We even had to wear plastic wraps for our shoes to protect the floor from our heels or dirt from outside. The house, designed by a Swedish architect, was built in 1930s, and it is attached to a medieval royal palace which was originally Henry VIII’s boyhood home (and a truly outstanding combination of art deco-medieval style). It is so remarkable to listen to the audio guide and find out that all the single details are never too insignificant to be passed on. From who manufactured the round carpet on the hall, to the guests who had visited and stayed with the family (including the Queen, twice). Even their exotic pet, Mah-Joong the lemur, has its own 2 minutes of fame in the explanatory; from where they bought him (Harrods) to the incident when he bit an ankle of one important guest.

When I was more into touching the wooden panels (when allowed!) and admire the woodworks (cheekily trying to figure out where the joint of each panel was), I couldn’t help but amazed to see all visitors were wandering around the estate with their audio device glued on their ears, spent time to inspect each detail. I’m sure when it is in Indonesia, no one would be interested to know if some important bill was written in a certain room let alone looking at the guest list of the dinner party.

Looks like I must take a crash course of Indonesian history so I’d be able to tell others about my beloved country. I mean, if you do love your country, you could at least answer basic questions people might ask about it, right?


  1. I think I would do much worse than you. Not only I rarely travel to the eastern part of Indonesia, I think I do spend much more of my holidays in Hongkong, Singapore and Malaysia much more than any domestic destination in the country.

  2. Andie Summerkiss says:

    I think I would do much worse than you. Not only I rarely travel to the eastern part of Indonesia, I think I do spend much more of my holidays in Hongkong, Singapore and Malaysia much more than any domestic destination in the country.

  3. – Wifi is a big no for my company, they are so paranoid, as if we are working in secretive agency with multiple security protection in our laptop. So, I don’t even know how to use wifi. Silly me.
    – When my colleagues want to have a whirlwind visit here and seek my advice for local attractions, I just said, buy a Fodor or lonely planet books, you’ll find more information than my tips. Went to Bali only one time, not for pleasure, just another boring business meeting.
    – I love historic buildings, they tell stories with their own way. My encounters with buildings are very limited with art deco style and haven’t had a chance to see the majestic sight of any Gothic or Renaissance building. Local government here apparently has no interest to preserve those buildings and always find excuses to “revitalize” into stupid shopping malls.

    – Nice reading as always Anita.

  4. Finally Woken says:

    @Andie: did you at least go to touristy spots or you just went shopping?

    @Toni: very true. Our government doesn’t realize the importance of preserving our heritage.

  5. When I was in high school in Yogyakarta, I had a teacher who we nicknamed “Mr. Encyclopedia” for his knowledge of all wayang kulit character (and he could draw it well). A trip to Borobudur with teacher Sukirman was never a boring one. He could fluently tell us each of the stories behind the stone craft from the bottom to the top side of the temples. I love history.

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