I took my one-man, 24/7 traveling circus on the road the other day for a long walk. All the usual spectators came to watch: adults who can’t imagine why I would walk anywhere, let alone their street, and kids, who are so shocked, so adrenalized by my presence, that they don’t know what to do with themselves. Some take a few apprehensive steps back from the road, while others look ready to explode with excitement.
Two in particular took the initiative to hop on a bike and follow me for a bit. At some point, to get a better look, they passed me, wide-eyed and mouths gaping. I laughed out loud, which made them laugh, too. When I caught up with them, I asked them what they were doing, where they were going (like you do in Indonesia), but they seemed to have forgotten how to talk. I filled in the blank. “Are you tailing the bule?” – “No, no! [silence, then…] Where are you from?”
Eventually, they did remember how to talk. We happened to stop in front of a lumber yard, and the workers there decided to chime in: “Where are you going? Are you alone?” – “Not anymore,” I said. Indonesians hardly do anything alone. Even my students—both girls and guys—leave class to go to the bathroom in twos. After a few more questions, the kids went back the way they had come. I kept going.
About twenty minutes later, I turned onto a very pretty road that passed between two sugarcane fields. How quiet and green, I thought to myself. The notion had barely jumped its last synapse when I heard distant yells coming from behind me. I smiled to myself; I had an idea of what was coming. I didn’t turn around though. I thought I’d let myself be surprised. Finally, the yelling caught up with me. It was the boys from before, and they had brought along six of their friends. The interview started all over again.
FAIZAN: [in English!] What is your name?
ME: My name is Mr. Liam.
FAIZAN: My name is Faizan. [Then pointing to his friend.] My name is Bagus.
ME: His name is Bagus.
FAIZAN: Ya, his name is Bagus.
And so on, though the rest of the conversation took place in Indonesian and Javanese.
BAGUS: It’s going to rain, Mister. How about running?
I had to think about that for a few seconds. Contrary to popular belief, subjects are not essential parts of a sentence.
ME: You mean I should run?
[Vigorous nodding all around.]
A few kids got on even fewer bicycles, and the rest of us ran alongside them. By the time we got to their street, it had started drizzling. I said goodbye and made my way toward the main road, which would take me home.