Thursday, September 28, 2006

Jakarta Curiosities

Recently I came across this write up in my files and realized I had never made it a post. It is dated and several of the principle characters have moved on. But the curiosities mentioned are still quite relevant to my life in Jakarta.

The other morning as we exited our car in the school parking lot we were greeted by Mr. Townley pulling up on a kids bicycle. I figured that his car was in the shop and he was making due with what he had but inquired anyway. The answer he gave was much unexpected. Apparently five of his students did not know how to ride a bike and he had to give them riding lessons after school. What's the big deal? Nice guy this Mr. Townley staying after teaching his little ones a valuable life skill. All good and well ... BUT Mr. Townley teaches ninth grade English! He is taking the ninth grade to Perth, Australia next week on their class trip part of which involves a bike ride. Last year he did not find out about this culturally bred phenomenon until they were actually on the bike ride. It was a bit of a harrowing experience for the novice riders and responsible teachers. This year when Mr. Townley proactively inquired about the student’s bike riding knowledge, five students said they did not know how to ride a bike. So every day for the last week Mr. Townley and students Shirley, Dimas, Kwan Young, Margaret and Alan made their way to the gymnasium to learn how to ride a bike. The thing that really struck me about this whole situation was that it was no big deal. The students were not embarrassed or made fun of by any classmates. Imagine this situation in the States?! I then thought about my own learning to ride a bike as a child experience - how many times I wiped out - how much of the road I needed to wobble about on and how I was unable to stop for a long time. Then I thought about those situations here in the city of Jakarta and it made a lot more sense why these kids never learned to ride a bike - self preservation.

A few more examples of the fascinating use and abuse of the English language - click here for more "Fun with Languages"

Alicia spotted a little boy the other day in the mall with a shirt that stated "Nazi Punks F... Off!". We guessed he was around seven years old and hoped he was oblivious. Maybe he has really angry parents or an English speaking maid with a peculiar sense of humor.

The other day I was at the bowling alley overseeing the afternoon activity period and noticed a fellow with the word "walrus" printed boldly on his shirt. That was it - a green shirt with "walrus" emblazed across his chest. No image, no quirky description just "walrus".

At the mall the other day Alicia noticed a young girl, probably in 5th grade or so sporting a shirt with (and I am going to use censors here because I am) "F....... U" as in "Harvard U" or "Stanford U".

Probably my all time favorite so far was the shirt of a young man - perhaps in college - with a shirt sporting a picture of that wacky cartoon character Woody Woodpecker accompanied by the description "Woody Wood Pecker" (perhaps for the benefit of those who did not actually recognize the image on the shirt).


brandon said...

Well, on Friday one of the 9th grade girls was wearing a t-shirt all day that said, "Drink Until He's Cute!". Complete with images of beer mugs.

I'm pretty sure she wore it throughout the entire school day and each teacher simply thought someone else would make her change.

Anonymous said...

I think you underestimated those kids who wore those shirts. I think those kids knew the meaning of it and thought it was cool. And maybe the joke is on you. So maybe you should take your curiosity seriously.

I used to live in Jakarta more than a decade ago. Even then before internet was born,those kids knew English better than I did. They were willing to memorize songs with profanity in it. And intentionally doing that to test their teachers intelligent or adults around them.

IndoIan said...

Great insight and commentary! Indeed the joke is most likely on me. And as you suggest, I will certainly take my curiosity more seriously.