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I was in Central Java, Indonesia recently to visit my girlfriend's family. (For privacy reasons, she's not in any of the photos below.) For several days I was in a village in Central Java, a beautiful land where rice fields thrive in fertile volcanic soils. This is the Indonesia that few foreigners get to experience, since most of them just stick to touristy Bali, the capital city Jakarta, and maybe Yogyakarta. Also, Indonesia is the world's 4th most populous nation, after China, India, and the USA, but most Americans know comparatively little about this wonderful country.
This is not a poor village, since many people get remittances from Malaysia, Singapore, the Middle East, and many other countries. Every household has at least one motorbike.
The locals are ethnic Javanese and are Muslims, but many people don't pray 5 times a day, many women do not wear headscarves, and pre-Islamic beliefs (such as beliefs in local ghosts and spirits) abound. Islam had reached Java only 500 years ago, and the traditional rural versions of Islam practiced in Java are often considered by Middle Easterners to be heterodox. Pilgrimages to local holy sites, especially those of the Wali Songo ("The Nine Saints"), are very popular. Dangdut songs, which sound like Indian pop music, are played everywhere.
It's very easy to make friends here, and I got to know literally dozens of people in the village. I'm not here to hit on other girls since I was visiting my girlfriend's family, but Indonesian women, and men, are quite friendly, easy-going, and easy to talk to.
My hosts were incredibly warm and treated me like one of their own. A truly unforgettable experience.
Rice fields and palm trees near the village
Javanese food ("masakan Jawa")
View from the front of the house. Javanese rural villages are often lush and green.
Bananas from our backyard
Asma al-Husna (the 99 names of Allah)
Motorbike adventure out in the rice fields
Exploring a cave with my buddy
Exploring the forest
By the river rapids
This is the village cemetery. I'm here to pay my respects to my girlfriend's father, who had passed away a few years ago.
Kenongo is a kind of flower used for Javanese grave offerings. This is a pre-Islamic tradition, and dates back to Java's Hindu-Buddhist past.
Two elders chant Quranic verses and mantras over the grave. This is a Sufi (Islamic mysticism) tradition that has Indian and possibly Persian roots, and is definitely not something you'd find in strict orthodox Islam.
Back home with my little friend
My hosts say goodbye as they drop me off at the airport.
More adventures to come
Looks nice. I've never been to the villages of Central Java. I've been to a village on the west coast in the Sundanese area, and I've spent some time in a couple of villages up in Sumatera. It's quite an experience.
Javanese hospitality is warm. There is a cultural ethic among Indonesians, probably more so among Javanese, to make other people feel comfortable, especially guests. I like Javanese food, too, tempe, tahu, and the fungal pile of edible rubble they make from tempe that I can't remember the name of, but it sure is tastey. Of course, there is the sweet soy sauce, too, a unique flavor.
Javanese women have a reputation locally for being submissive. How did they interact with their fathers and husbands when you were there?
A lot of Indonesian street food is actually directly derived from Chinese street hawker food. The ubiquitous bakso and bakpao stands across Indonesia are a legacy of how many Chinese immigrants eked out their livings during the 1800's and early 1900's. In fact, those are Hokkien Chinese words (Winston's native tongue) that have become nativized in Indonesian.
Many Javanese village women will in fact defer to their husbands, but not to the extent you find in Arab countries like Saudi Arabia of course. But when some women who have worked as office ladies in big cities go back to their villages, they can have attitudes.
Generally they're very sweet and easy to get along with, that's the main thing. Globalization and urbanization are changing much of the younger generation, however.
How were the villages in Sumatera? I've never been to Sumatera but might have an opportunity to go next year.
Most people ride motorcycles up there. Sometimes there were a few reckless drivers and speeders, but most of the time the speed was actually quite moderate due to all the potholes and rocks.
Arab countries and Latin America have by far the worst daredevil driving, and Southeast Asia actually isn't that bad. When I was in Mexico and Guatemala, I saw way more daredevil driving than I'd ever seen in my life.
I like those Indonesian Chinese food dishes. Mie Ayam, chicken noodle, is another favorite Indonesian Chinese dish. My wife makes that. It's good for wild goose, though that would be mie anggsa.
I didn't notice so much whether women deferred to husbands in the Batak villages, though Batak culture is generally that way. Batak are a bit more outspoken than their Javanese counterparts in general. One of the women's adult son had angrily banged a car with his hand after talking to her, and she came in throwing a fit in front of 20 or so relatives. When they mourn the dead, it's loud, too. They aren't as reserved as the Javanese. Children are taught to respect parents and men are expected to be in charge. I didn't speak the local language, so I didn't know that much that was going on.
I'm not to crazy about Batak food. There is a gold fish dish I like. I can eat the water buffalo and pork dishes if there.
Wow, that would be a bit harder to imagine for a Javanese family. I'd compare the Bataks to the outspoken Christian Filipinos. The Javanese are more like the more reserved Thais, Laotians, and Burmese than to Filipinos in many way.
Javanese Muslims will eat crickets, grasshoppers, rabbit meat, and all kinds of insects and seafood, but just not pork. Some young Javanese guys would drink beer, but would never try pork.
My girl makes me incredibly tasty Soto Ayam.
Make sure it's not soto cricket.
My wife hasn't made soto ayam in a while. She can make that and soto Madura, too. She's more likely to make mie ayam, or Vietnamese pho. When she tastes a food she likes, she often learns to make it. So occasionally, we'll eat Korean food, Thai food, or some other cuisine at home, too. It's good to have a woman who knows how to cook. One that cooks Indonesian cuisine is really good. Based on the Filippino food I've had, I'm glad I married an Indonesian rather than a Filippino. Some of it's good, but it's not good as Indonesian food, IMO.
You kind of have to work there. If you have money, you can open a foreign company and hire or sponsor yourself at all times. Or an Indonesian wife can open a local company.
Some lawyers, though, say you have to get a pre-nup giving up common property rights to any land she may own after marriage, otherwise neither of you will be able to own Indonesian land. I've read that may applied to locally-owned companies, but I'm not sure. If there is no legal dispute, it probably won't be a problem, and it may not be even if there is. This is a kind of fuzzy area of Indonesian law. Indonesian law tends to be fuzzy since they don't have a case law system like Anglo countries, and have more of a European type of law where issues are settled by decree.
I'd also like to point out that there are lots of Javanese Christians. They are the minority, but there are still multitudes of them. But it's not like the Sundanese where it's 99.9% Muslim.
If you aren't Muslim, legally to marry a Muslim, you'd have to convert to marry her. You could marry her abroad. But if you aren't Muslim, according to their religion, she's not supposed to be married to you.
The Javanese tend to be laid back about Islam, but that is changing. One generation is laid back and does cultural Islam, but the children may listen to a radical imam and become more serious about it.
There are lots of Javanese Christian nice girls to marry. I used to work with a number of them, school teachers, back in the 1990's. Some of them were cute. None of them quite appealed to me like my Batak wife did when I met her. I think my wife may be part Java-Sunda on a grandmother's side, but she's not Java or Sunda culturally.