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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Misunderstanding Club

Most of the misunderstandings in Ubud start out with: “I think your (Indonesian) friend doesn’t like me.”

“Why would you think so?” I knew that my Indonesian friend really like her—my American friend. I set them up on a romantic dinner at a cafe in Bisma street because they were both single, and my instinct works better than Tinder. But the dinner seemed to fail. A bit.

In Ubud, people come and go. Some stay longer. Some give us quick love, then leave us with deep-feeling remains. I call it ‘the classic tale of Ubudian romance’.
But some romances were destroyed by cringe-worthy habits.

In my defense, these habits are not part of Indonesian (or any country) culture and are not necessarily entitled to a certain ethnicity or race. In case you don’t have time to check Wikipedia page about Indonesia, we live here with over 300 ethnic groups with different local languages. Culture shock doesn’t happen only to foreigners meeting ‘the locals’ here. Even between us Indonesians, culture shock happens, too.
I mentioned this to give you a bit of a background, so you could understand this and withhold judgments.

My good friend is originally from the South of Sumatera. One day, I was invited by his mother to taste her homemade pempek (savoury fishcake), together with her big family. After the last bite, they all had a burping parade! His father said, the more delicious the food, the louder the burp should be. Interesting! So, I gave them my loudest burp because their pempek was delicious indeed.

“Burping means appreciating the kindness of the host who serves you food!”

“Ah, seriously?” I was not the only one who was surprised about this. My friend was also surprised. Even he didn’t know the subliminal message of burping!

He said, “I thought we’re doing that because it's something we need to do after eating, naturally. But I know I couldn't do that outside my house.”

No, he lied. He burped in my room, too. But I don't mind, I do that, too. It's like a level of intimacy between close friends; burping (and farting) brutally in front of one another! So, we’d like to apologize when we 'accidentally' burp in front of you. Fear not, this is because we feel a deep connection with you! :p A-ha!

Speaking about deep connections, we—or most of us—have a special relationship with sambal (hot sauce/chili paste). You name it: sambal matah (raw), sambal hijau (green chilli), sambal bawang (onion and garlic), or sambal dabu-dabu (in Manadonese cuisine—my favorite), or just a simple hot sauce packed in plastic bottles. We pair sambal with our favorite food: fried egg, deep fried tempeh, curried noodle, grilled fish, and sometimes pizza...

I love to freak out my Italian friend as I squirted plenty of hot sauce on top of my Quattro Formaggi pizza. He calls it a violation, I call it ‘food fusion’. He said, “I tolerate your pizza, but I can’t accept it.” Ouch!

My friend’s experience was worse. He got dumped by his ex-girlfriend because he likes to eat sushi with sambal. “My ex-girlfriend is really a sushi freak! So many rules! She wants me to pick up the sushi with my hand, because if I pick it up with chopsticks, I could ruin the perfect Chef's creation! She got really angry when I picked up a nigiri maki with a fork and drowned it on sambal terasi (shrimp paste chili)!” I laughed, “Dude, you are the freak!” I mean, his ex-girlfriend is a Japanese Chef—not just 'a sushi freak'. She was the one who made that sushi!

It's mind blowing to think that some 'normal' combination here, could be truly awkward somewhere. One evening, I cooked my childhood comfort food: curried noodle with shredded supermarket's cheddar cheese. Apparently, this nostalgic moment raised the concern of my Dutch friend. “You call this cheddar? Why would you put this fake cheddar on a noodle? Or in any cakes?” OMG, arrest me!

As you might notice, some of our manufactured cheese here are scented/chemically flavored—but not made from 100% real cheese. Honestly, most of us just don't care, because they are cheaper than real cheese! However, the bright side was that now, every time he comes back from The Netherlands, he gets me different kinds of delicious cheese; saving me from a fraudulent life. Okay, if this is what it takes to have delicious free stuff, I would pour fake wine into my noodles next time!

I remember a Christmas dinner last year, when my French friend warned me as he saw my fingers crawling slowly to a cheese platter. He noticed that some of us—Indonesians—couldn't stand the 'exotic aroma' of certain cheese. Ouch, he should have met my family then! We're all cheese maniacs—either real cheese or fake ones!

I also found out that the shape of Dutch cookie; kaastengel (which is also our obligatory cookie for Moslem’s Eid / Lebaran) is originally longer than Indonesian kaastengel. 'Kaas' = cheese and ''tengel' = hand/arm. So it does look like a cheese stick. It is a cheese stick! Thus, if the Dutch kaastengel is a 'cheese-hand', the Indonesian kaastengel should be called 'kaaspinky', because it’s the size of our pinky fingers! Have you ever tasted it? It's so deliciously crispy that you can't be quiet about it!

But, ssh. Let's be silent for awhile. Let's hear about what my American friend said, the one who was dating my Indonesian friend. “Throughout dinner, he just kept quiet. He seemed more interested in the food than having a conversation with me. When the steak came to our table, I became invisible,” she said.
First, he was nervous. That was his first date after 3 years of hiatus.
Second, that cafe in Bisma has the most delicious tenderloin steak in Ubud.
Third, my Indonesian friend and me came from the same hometown—with a similar family rule: we grew up eating in silence. Well, you can call it mindful eating. But that term sounds too fancy for me.

My mama forbade me to talk a lot while I’m eating because she was scared that I would choke on a piece of meat or a fishbone. “Enjoy the food, embrace the taste, a chat can wait.” And most of the times, we had our dinner on the sofa, watching some TV series. Ah, wonderful times! Since then, I’ve also became that cool—calm—collected man while munching the main course, and only got back to my chatty-and-gossipy self while waiting for the dessert. But of course, I adjust my manner to fit in the banquet squad. I could manage to talk while eating with this rhythm: chew, chew, swallow, talk, chew, chew—hey what's in it? Onion? Chilli? Hey! Swallow, talk!

So, if we eat in silence with you, it doesn't mean we dislike you—unless you're such a douchebag. Then I said to her, “Oh, well, he likes you, and the tenderloin, too!” In the end, my Indonesian friend and my American friend live happy ever after until visa requirements do them apart. Sad.

But don't cry. I have a happy ending for you, because not all weird mixtures are blasphemous. One starry night, I waited for my dinner to come in a warung in Penestanan. Suddenly, an international traveler screaming hysterically, “I didn't know that avocado juice could be this delicious! I thought avocado was just destined to be guacamole!” Whoa, cheers, Mate!

Now I'm wondering, is there any food, beverage—or 'local habits' that baffles or amazes you, but you’re too shy to ask, or too cool to tell? Don't worry, I heard some experts say that our brain judges others, naturally. But we have the option to understand and discuss about what baffles us. Don't let stereotypes fool us.

Because in the end, love conquers all.
But better hide that sambal. *burping*

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