Tuesday, 14 March 2006

My Indonesian Experience

My children are somewhat bemused that I am speaking with a different kind of Malay over the last few weeks, if not months. They hear me on the phone speaking to someone and give each other looks, that say: Why on earth is she speaking like that?

And Nicholas Saputra has nothing to do with this!

About three months ago, I acquired two Indonesian friends and although it was through work that I found them, I believe they will remain my friends for a long time. And it was with great sadness that I said goodbye to one of them last week. But before she went Ewok and I put on our tourist guide caps and showed her London and took pictures to show to families back home.

Anyway, knowing them has increased my Indonesian vocabulary tremendously and I realised how easily we slipped in and out of the Malay way of speaking to that of Indonesian and then back again. In fact we do that quite naturally when we are speaking to a Chinese tauke sayur or mamak mee goreng. I prefer to look at it this way – that we adapt ourselves quite easily, don’t you think?

During my childhood days in Yan, I got to know a lot of Indonesians whose small settlement in Kampung Aceh I used to visit quite often, especially during the durian season. In my mind’s eyes, I see an enclave so green and cool, under the protective shelter of the Jerai. And I befriended the community whose language I became quite intrigue with as a child. My Acehnese classmate, once in her own territory, would speak a totally different lingo, one that I found very hard to understand. A trip to Kampung Aceh was to me then, like a trip to another foreign land. Much, much later, I came to understand better the reasons they were there. Even from as far back as the Acehnese Sultanate, there were already movements of people from across the straits but that gained momentum in the late 1800’s when conflict with the Dutch drove the Acehnese to migrate and settle in Kedah and other northern states of Malaya. When Aceh was incorporated into the nation state of Indonesia, more left .

I remember quite, quite well how these mild mannered people took to the streets of Yan during the Konfrantasi days. The sleepy town of Yan would echo with the cries of ganyang Sukarno, and fiery and powerful speeches would culminate with the burning of effigies of the leader. Indonesians, I must say, are natural born orators.

One corner of Yan, just by the smelly river leading up to an even smellier market, was the venue for some of the most vocal and influential Indonesian orators – medicine men- selling all kinds of ointments which promised to do wonders to parts of the body that we didn’t even know exist. There used to be large crowds surrounding the medicine man, crowds of men who would leave clutching the miracle in the bottle and hope in their minds.

Anyway, it was not surprising that some of these medicine men were also some of the fiercest orators leading the protest marches along the sleepy town of Yan, under the watchful eyes of Jerai.

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These scenes came back to haunt me recently in the story of Gie, brilliantly acted by Nicholas Saputra. Gie, a student activist, an idealist and a romantist, grew up during these turbulent times, witnessing and later participating in street demonstrations against Sukarno. He wrote stirring articles and gave rousing speeches, the likes of which I heard giving fiery speeches at the square by the smelly river.
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The Konfrantasi came to an end soon enough and like any sibling rivalries, Indonesia and Malaysia made up and we fell in love with Sofan Sufian, Ratno Timoer and Broery Marantika as their songs and movies flooded our market. The dulcet tones of Broery never failed to stir our deepest emotions – for he was a Batak, wasn’t he? If I am not mistaken, the Bataks do have mesmerising voice.

I was fortunate to work with some very good Indonesian broadcasters during my broadcasting days. Some of them were Bataks with wonderful deep baritone voice. It never ceased to impress me how they could handle even a minute talk without any prepared scripts. It took me years to be able to “talk to the clock” confidently when I ran out of news bulletins to read. But then again , that’s my failure.
Anyway, it was during my stint with the BBC that I met Broery who was then accompanying his wife, Anita Sarawak when she perfomed at the South Bank in the late eighties. I could have sworn that my knees turned into jellies when he opened his mouth to just say hello during the interview. It was also then that I was given the honour to interview the founder and editor of Pujangga Baru and one of Indonesia’s most respected literary figures – Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana, author of books like Layar Terkembang , Kalah dan Menang, to name a few. It was indeed a humbling experience to be able to talk to someone whose influence on literature and language still continues long after his death.
I did my bit of Indonesian broadcast, but my gentle Malay lenggang lengguk (sway) was such a contrast to the more stoccato sounds of the Indonesian diction.
So, the screening of several Indonesian films in the past week did a lot to bring back things Indonesian to me and thus this entry. I did a five day whirlwind duty tour of Indonesia in the late 80’s and I think I am ready for another visit.

28 comments:

lieawulf said...

my sister works with achenese and rohingyas, and she picked up their language(s) while communicating with them during the many interviews that she conducted.

LifeBloom said...

Thanks for the history about the Acehnese origins in Kedah. I have a Kedahan uncle who has Acehnese roots and always wondered how it was possible. And yes he is from Yan. Must ask him more about it.

sue said...

Hello Kak Teh,
Nice piece,
My father's side pun from Yan, he did mention about about these Acehnese history. Until today Yan is still a quiet place.

Ely said...

i cant take my eyes off ur moving CHOCOLATE banner...that i had to re read ur entry a few times!

Kak Teh said...

lieawulf, nothing beats mingling with the locals when u are learning a language. Its the best and fastest way. How I envy her...
lifebloom, aha..do ask him and see whether he remembers anymore. I'd love to know more too.
traveler, Thanks - u know all these snippets frommy childhood keep coming back - and mostly from Yan. How I wish I could dig up more.
ely, concentrate, concentrate! Will send some chocs if anyone going yr way - ah yes, when our lil sis comes here, okay?

sue said...

Kak teh:
I've been trying to link ur blog n sentraal tapi tak jadi juge..whats wrong? i've follow the instruction.

Kak Teh said...

traveller , i think there's something wrong with blogspot sebab I tried to put a book as well - tak boleh jugak. And some people cannot access my blog pun. Some people get the forbidden message...but i thinkits a technical problem. Try again later.

MA said...

Kak Teh :

My daughter Kakak counted in Javanese (akin to Indon la kan) first - Siji, Loro, Telu...before she counted in BM or English ! Thanks to the old Bibik.

Thank God, the old Bibik retired before Kakak could sing Indonesia Raya !

About Blogreader said...

I don't know much about Indonesia (should find out more!). My impression is that their Malay is more refined and precise than the Malay we use. I've thought about improving my Malay by going to an Indonesian teacher, but I haven't followed through. Yes I also knew a Batak man with a deep, resonant voice, from graduate school. Couldn't finish his assignments to save his life, but he could really talk and sing (said with love)!

pu1pu3 said...

KT, Your entry this time somehow has cleared my perceptions of the Batak. I grew up being fed with the notion that BATAKs eats people?And now you say they are great singers.That's 2 contrasting things about Bataks. WOW!Secondly, I never knew Broery married our Anita. Talk about missing trains, eh. I'm sure a slow coach!

faux diamante said...

oh the bataks can REALLY REALLY sing! check out their voice projection, they almost always do not need microphones!

and oh,mas broery, dimanakah pria sepertimu dia dunia ini lagi...oh mas...kangen aku mas...

*haip, behave nazrah, behave*

Restless said...

Whatever everyone is saying about the Indonesians, my thoughts stays afixed - I think greatly of them; language, spirit as well as knowledge-enthusiasm. Even, had a beau from the neighbouring country once.

lacrema said...

Hi Kak teh,

How are you? Lama tak dengar cerita. Bila nak balik KL? I am in the midst of changing jobs. Tired of doing research and think tank work, especially since late Tan Sri's passing. I am contemplating joining the corporate world again. Are you still teaching there? Any news for PhD? Say hello to Braginsky for me!

Love,
Lacrema

Jiwa Rasa said...

sometimes we tend to forget that we were from the big family of `rumpun melayu'...

Kak Teh said...

MA - there willbe awhole generation who will grow up with both kinds of lingo - which is not a bad thing, of course.
Blogreader - many, many scholars start off withindoensian and not malay. sigh, i wonder why.
Putri, yes, i heard abt that too..but luckily the ones i know are very2 nice!

Kak Teh said...

nazrah - yes, behave!
anim, i share yr sentiments.
lacrema, will be back soon, real soon and i met up with Dr B..and i have news - will tell when i go back!
Jiwa, - yes, sadly so.

Lydia Teh said...

KT, I thought B. Indonesia is more lenggang-lengguk than B. Malaysia. It has a sing-song quality that BM doesn't have, no?

kunci hilang said...

Indonesia.
Pilih satu saja.
Filem atau muzik?

Honeytar said...

Dear Kak Teh,

I LOVE your banner.
I LOVE your banner.
I LOVE your banner.

ooo..belum baca entry ni lagi sebab lama benor duk tenung banner kak Teh. ;-) (hint ler tuu.. ) hihihihi....

Kak Teh said...

lydia - no we malays more lenggang lengguk one..
kunci hilang - ish macam mana nak pilih tu?
honeytar - beres - cakap aja apa mau!

Anonymous said...

psst... kak teh...

Broery bukan orang Batak... he was from Ambon actually...

cheers...

Kak Teh said...

pssssst, anon, thanks for the info! I thought he was!

Anonymous said...

alamak.. kak the... that was melah...

Noni said...

haiya... whylah da rong wun? its noni kak teh....ugghhhh...!!!!

Kak Teh said...

hahaha noni - thanks for the info - and u jangkit my type eh?

Kak Teh said...

urggggggggggg - my typo!!

aneeta said...

this is a lovely entry. Yes, must learn more about the kedah-acheh connection.

thank you.

Kak Teh said...

aneeta, indeed - there's tremendous amount of material there for ten novels!!