Figuring Out Life in Yogyakarta


My first month living in Yogyakarta was busy and exciting. The first few weeks were especially hectic—so hectic that I barely had time to slow down enough to fully realize that I was living on my own on the other side of the world. This was good, however, because it distracted me from missing home too much and gave me a collection of wild stories to tell upon my return home.

Parakeet, Indonesia

Indonesian parakeets make great escape artists.

I did things in those first few weeks that I never dreamed I would do. I rode on the back of a motorcycle for the first time, and I spent one morning following two elephants down a street. I participated in a silent protest and visited a museum that could only be accessed by walking down a long alley that was barely as wide as my shoulders. I attended an Indonesian blues concert and struggled through a yoga class that took place in a rice field. I ate contaminated pineapple chunks on the day before my birthday and feverishly turned 20 while suffering from food poisoning and secretly wondering if I was actually suffering from malaria or some other tropical disease.

It was also during these first few weeks that I reached new levels of ingenuity and patented my own series of Indonesian “life hacks.” For example, a mosquito net that becomes unhinged at one corner can be reattached to the celling with the help of a lasso crafted from a shoelace and a handful of seashells (see Diagram A.). A broken toilet float can be fixed with a hairband. A parakeet that escapes from its cage and probably belongs to your neighbor can be covertly returned to the wild with the proper amount of guidance.

My environment also inspired a handful of new beauty tips. I quickly learned that Indonesian mosquitos are nothing more than tiny, flying vampires, which means that insect repellant should be applied like perfume at the nape of the neck. It should be known that the strength of the industrial grade insect repellant you are advised to use will strip any and all nail polish off of your nails within two days’ time. Living in a tropical environment calls for some sacrifice and foresight. It’s best to go au natural while hanging around the “Ring of Fire” (this is a pretty cool slang term for “Indonesia”) and tuck a bottle of nail polish away in your bag so that you can paint your nails later when you are stuck in an airport en route back to the United States. Forget to pack lipstick? Don’t sweat it. On your way back from checking out a local market or exploring the sultan’s palace, simply ask your motorcycle-Uber driver (more on this unique phenomenon later) to leave you on the side of the road. The leaves of teak trees (which can be found growing on the sides of all major thoroughfares) contain a red pigment which can be used as a natural lip coloring. The pigment can also be applied as a blush to your already sunburnt cheeks.

While the extreme amount of sun exposure you are sure to receive in such a tropical environment will strike most tourists as menacing and problematic, it is best to view your Heat Miser-induced condition in a different light—no pun intended. No, you don’t have a sunburn. Rather, you possess a distinct “equatorial smolder”—a rosy complexion that can only be produced in intimately close proximity to the Earth’s Equator. (Still, be sure to pile on the sunscreen as skin protection is always a good idea.)

I learned in my first few weeks in Indonesia that optimism and a sense of humor are two essential elements of living abroad. I hope this is demonstrated by the style in which I’ve chosen to write much of this post. While living abroad, I encountered odd scenarios and ridiculous problems that I never could have anticipated. I also invented and discovered a variety of solutions to these issues. In doing so, I became more creative without even realizing it.


About Author

Maura Tangum is a studio art and English double major from Atlanta, Georgia. She is currently in Indonesia with support from a Dean Rusk Program grant.

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