Impressions of Indonesia

Kuala Lumpur Airport

My very first impression of southeast asia was during 3 hour layover at Kuala Lumpur Airport enroute from Tokyo to Surabaya.  I realized on the way out that I didn’t actually see much of the airport since I arrived at the Air Asia terminal and stayed in the secure area to catch my next flight.  My very first impression was really not that great.

The building itself, in retrospect, was fine.  It was, however, my first experience with a bathrooms, and it was… not good.  They had both the squat toilets and western toilets, but everything in the bathroom was wet and it smelled.  It was rather like a bathroom at a dirty gas station.  I opted to wait until I was on the plane.  What made it worse, was that I came from the US where the bathrooms are ok, to Japan, where everything was super clean, to Kuala Lumpur…

On the way back, I had a longer layover in Kuala Lumpur and left the airport, so had a chance to see more of it.  It turns out to be quite nice and the bathrooms in other areas of the airport were much better – on par with the US.  I’m not sure what was so special about the terminal bathroom that it was as gross as it was.


I want to start by making it clear that this paragraph isn’t a statement of good or bad but probably speaks more to where priorities are.  It seems like a lot of things in Indonesia were either in disrepair or unfinished and not knowing the full history makes it a bit difficult to figure out what is going on in the background.  For example, at Bromo Volcano and and the Madakaripura falls, there are cement structures that were likely built several decades ago but now look like ruins from lack of maintenance.   The structures are still functional , so it could be a case of ‘if it isn’t broken…’

Another example is the kitchen sink where Daniel and Paige live – it’s a pipe sticking out of the wall at a fun angle with a plastic spigot at the end.  While not totally aesthetic, it is perfectly functional.  The rest of the house is really very nice.  So it would see that maybe there isn’t as much need or desire to spend money on anything but the practical in the kitchen, but its more important for the front rooms where guests would spend more time to look very nice.

All the floors in the house were polished stone and looked beautiful.  Something that would be expensive here but relatively common over there.

Call to Prayer

Indonesia is a mostly Islamic country, so there are small mosques all over.  Each one has a big horn speaker designed for volume and not sound quality that is used 5 times a day for the Adhan, or call to prayer.  Overall, 4 or the 5 calls to prayer didn’t really bother me as much as the 1 that was somewhere in the vicinity of 5 in the morning.  The calls to prayer have a very spooky or eerie sound that is a little bit hard to overlook.  At one point, we all had gone for a walk out among the rice fields when the call to prayer started.  It sounded like several ghosts carrying warnings.

Video of Adhan (the video part isn’t important – it’s really about the sound).


This is worth brining up because it’s probably the most personal of the drastic cultural differences between the US and Indonesia.  Between most countries (Australia, Japan, Europe), there are subtle difference in the bathroom, but nothing that requires more than a slight change to get accustomed to).  In Indonesia, however, the bathrooms are entirely different.

Where in most countries there is just one bathroom for the toilet and bath/shower (or maybe you have a second room within the bathroom for the toilet), in Indonesia there is a toilet room and a bathing room, usually next to each other, but very separate much like bedrooms are separate.  The toilet room will have a porcelain ‘squatty potty’ and a faucet with a bucket or perhaps a big water tank and no toilet paper.  You use the toilet and then wash with water.  The other room is for bathing and will have another tank of water and space for you to basically undress, and pour water on yourself to bathe.

Daniel had rigged a shower in another part of the house, so I never really bother to try bathing in the traditional sense.  For me, the hardest part about using the bathroom was squatting.  Locals who do this all the time have a much easier time, but I found my muscles would get tired or cramped from squatting, so I would have to stand to rest for a moment.  By the end of the week, I was getting used to squatting and didn’t have as much of an issue.

Video of toilet demonstration.

Air Asia

I flew on American Airlines to Tokyo and on Quantas from Sydney back to DFW, both of which were good flights.  All the flights in between (Tokyo-Kuala Lumpur-Surabaya, Jogjakarta-Kuala Lumpur-Sydney) were on Air Asia

When I booked the flights, it was all on, so I thought it was all the same airline, but turned out to be more like an American Airlines verses American Eagle type arrangement.

For the Tokyo-Kuala Lumpur and Kuala Lumpur-Sydney segments, I few on Air Asia X, which was a very pleasant experience.  The plane was a big Airbus, with 9 seats across in three groups of three, except in the back.  I didn’t know this before and believe the same is true on the larger Boeing planes, but the back of the plane narrows to a point, so it changes to a 2-3-2 seating for several rows and there seems to be more room until you get to the very last rows.  So this experience was much like any other major airline.

The flights from Kuala Lumpur to Surabaya and from Jogjakarta to Kuala Lumpur was a much different experience.  This was on Air Asia (note the lack of an X) on a much smaller plane that seated 6 across in two groups of 3, much like a 737.  So this was not a big deal.  What was a big deal is that there was significantly less leg room in this plane.  The seats were closer together to the point where my knees were almost touching the seat in front of me.  It was a bit claustrophobic.  Fortunately I was exhausted and slept most of the way, so I didn’t realy notice.  Plus the flight was a short 2 hours.

I’m Tall!

I’m really not very tall, being about 5′ 7″, but that would seem to be tall for an Indonesian.  I thought it was a pretty interesting experience to be able to actually see over most everyone’s head and I’m quite jealous of people who are taller than me in the US.  That might explain why the seats on Air Asia were so close together – Indonesians and Malaysians don’t need as much room.  Or they just wanted to get as many people in as possible.

Doing Laundry

I didn’t take very many clothes with me.  My goal was to pack as lightly as possible and do laundry when I needed to.

Daniel and Paige have a washer in their house, but it wasn’t a normal washing machine in the sense of what I was accustomed to.  This turned out to be an interactive experience.

An interactive laundry experience.

The design of the washer is called “twin tub.”  This particular model is made by Panasonic.  The benefits of this design is low overall cost and probably lower operating costs.   If you lived in Indonesia and wanted to buy one, most of them cost about $100-130.  It turned out that I found a similarly designed washing machine aboard the HMAS Vampire in Austraila.

So, as I said before, this was an interactive washing machine.  Doing laundry went something like this:

  • Put clothes in the left drum (note that there are two drums – more on that later)
  • Set the second dial to wash.
  • Take hose and fill drum with water.  (You can also attach the hose to the water port, but this same hose was for showering).
  • Add laundry soap.
  • Set timer which starts the wash cycle, maximum is 15 minutes.
  • When done, set second dial to drain to drain the water.
  • Set back to wash, fill drum for rinse cycle.
  • Set timer
  • When done, move clothes to spin drum and set spin timer.
  • When done, remove clothes and hang out to dry.

Riding Bikes

Paige and Daniel are forbidden from ride motorcycles or scooters by the Peace Corps, so we rode bicycles, walked and took buses, which was pretty fun.  The only drawback was the busses – they fly by and always seem to be closer to you than, say, the trucks.  Riding a motorized two wheeler looks like it would be quite an adventure, especially when you watch how everyone squeezes in together.