Last Friday as we wrapped up the first (but not really first) week of school, two English teachers and two other teachers invited me to join them on a trip to Surabaya for the day. I’m still trying to get a grasp for the degree of bureaucracy in Indonesia and I still don’t have a clue, but this trip served as a great example. The teachers all needed signed certificates that demonstrated that they were legal teachers. They needed to attain these from a University that none of them had attended, but acts in some kind of national education administration role. And they needed these certificates to prove that they were legal teachers, despite the fact that they have all taught at this school for eight years or longer and submitted this documentation two years ago.
Regardless of the reason, I’m not going to pass up on a trip (by air conditioned car) to the second biggest city in the country.
After the three hour trip, the relatively easy attainment of the documents, and the hour long stop for their Friday prayers (Friday is the most important day for prayer in Islam), they told me that they had a surprise for me. As we drove deeper into the city (and deeper into the insane traffic of the city) we finished our journey at one of Surabaya’s mega-malls. A six story behemoth that included many American stores (Nike, Polo, Bebe, Payless, Starbucks, etc.) as well as a ton of stores that looked like they were modeled on American stores and fashion. While walking through the mall one of the teachers made a comment about what an odd group we are, four “country folk” and a foreigner in the big city, which became the running joke for the afternoon.
However, the surprise for me was in the food court. They assumed that the thing I missed most about America was hamburgers, so they wanted to treat me to a meal at McDonald’s. Despite the fact that I ate at McDonald’s about once a year back home, this was an incredibly thoughtful gesture on their part. However, the McDonald’s was no longer there—it had been replaced by an A&W Root Beer restaurant. They were very disappointed, but A&W also had hamburgers, so that sufficed.
While eating my hamburger (as they watched, they weren’t interested in a hamburger), I explained to them that I had only eaten in one other A&W and that was in Stanton, KY whenever I would go camping in the Red River Gorge with friends back home. What was particularly funny about this is that Stanton is (or at least was) a town with one stop light and maybe 1,000 residents. Very different than here in this enormous mall in the second biggest city of the world’s fourth most populous country.
After finishing the hamburger, they told me that we weren’t done eating. We then went to KFC, which they wanted to go to because it has Kentucky in the name. They read the history of restaurant on the wall, wanted to know if I had ever been to the first restaurant in Corbin, and they were all amazed when I told them that Col. Sanders and I shared the same “rank” because we are both Kentucky Colonels (non-military, honorary title given by the governor of Kentucky).
After eating the chicken (served with a pound of rice, of course), we hopped in the car and headed back. I thought we might go for the trifecta and stop by the Dairy Queen or Wendy’s that were nearby for dessert, but it wasn’t meant to be.
The trip really showed the differences that exist across Indonesia and how rapidly the economy is growing, at least in the urban areas. Four hours later, I was back in our village dodging chickens on a dirt road surrounded by homes that lack ceilings, and use outdoor kitchens with dirt floors.
Before coming to Indonesia, I had read that its economy is one of the fastest growing in the world and is considered to be in the next generation of BRIC economies, following the growth of Brazil, Russia, India and China. The trip to Surabaya gave me a new insight into this as I saw much of the growing manufacturing industry on the drive to Surabaya, where I saw the “finished product.”
A country that is on the developmental rise like Indonesia isn’t exactly a stereotypical Peace Corps country; which makes this such an exciting time to be here as the students that we are teaching have greater opportunities than ever before in this country and places an even greater importance on learning English.