“Excuse me, can we have a picture with you please?” It’s not something, as every day travellers we’d ever expect a stranger to ask us. In Indonesia though, as westerners we suddenly became celebrities. People of all ages were fascinated to see us and any white, traveller passing through and it gave school kids especially a chance to practice their English with giggling, embarrassed, yet eager tones.
The main spots in which we were accosted by hordes of kids were the ancient Buddhist temple complex of Borobudur and the National Museum in Jakarta. In Borobudur we actually resorted to planning our route around the site to avoid as many people as possible. Not only school kids, but grown men (one of which wanted to exchange phone numbers) appeared as if from nowhere, sometimes with arms around us and a friend ready to take that prized shot. Although we didn’t have any problems, do be sure in this instance to be wary of pick pockets who apparently sometimes use this tactic.
We didn’t mind the attention at first although it felt incredibly awkward posing when we already felt awkward from noticing so many eyes on us. After a while however it became exhausting. All we wanted to do was enjoy the views, absorb the fascinating history and explore. We noticed another visitor to Borobudur being swarmed by what looked to be an entire year group for a group shot.
On Samosir Island in Lake Toba, a group of students visiting the island frequently called out to us and approached us with sheets of paper with written questions to ask us such as “what is your name?” “Where are you from?” “Do you like Indonesia?” As we walked past a hotel where they were staying they called out to us from the windows, shouting and waving. We waved and then quickened the pace as we noticed a few of them making their way to the pavement. On our last day on the island, Steve was incredibly sick and on the way to a clinic to see a doctor but we were stopped and ‘interviewed’ by some of the students who were simply happy to have the interaction. We stayed as long as we could but unfortunately Steve’s condition wasn’t such that we were in a position to miss the hospital before a long minibus journey to Medan.
We learned from our brilliant guide and friend, Suska that kids are encouraged in school to interact with westerns- especially English speakers- as this is one of the rare opportunities they’ll have to practice for real. The same happened in the museum. A school trip to study the huge amount of artifacts and exhibits there turned in to a to-and-fro between us and the student’s friends who were brought over to say “hello” and take pictures with us. Some of these kids were obviously trying to be cocky in front of their friends which amused us. This was fine but the aspect of these experiences we very quickly began to dislike were the surreptitious pictures of us taken by adults.
At Borobudur, on a boat crossing Lake Toba, at an airport, on the street… These are all places where people have taken photos of us. No doubt there were more that we didn’t know about. The couple on the boat were hilarious. We were sat behind them, looking out at the huge expanse of water with the green cliffs of Samosir Island behind us. There were glances at us over the shoulder and then it appeared as if they were taking a selfie. Nope, they put their heads to one side and moved the camera so we were the subject of the frame with their shoulders and sides of their heads framing us! At the airport (can’t remember which one but it was either Jakarta or Medan we think), a couple sat on a bench across the walkway in the departures area just casually raised a phone and took a picture. Another guy walked past, stopped in his tracks, took a photo and carried on. We often wonder if we’ll come across pictures of us online one day.
If someone could explain to us why people feel like this sort of behaviour is ok in Indonesia that would be great!
Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.
So yeah, if you’re around any major tourist attractions in certain parts of Indonesia, be prepared for some attention. Perhaps have silly pair of glasses or fake moustache on hand to add some humour to proceedings!
Until next time, happy travels!