Tuesday, May 16, 2017

So Your Character is From Indonesia ... Featuring Cilla @ Paved with Books & Tasya @ The Literary Huntress

It's time for this week's So Your Character is ... Post! This is a weekly segment where I interview lovely volunteers from around the world to give you a firsthand account of being a citizen of their respective country or having a disability. I'm hoping to encourage international diversity, break stereotypes, and give writers a crash course on how to write a character from these different places on our planet. If you haven't checked out last week's  So Your Character is from India ... be sure to hop on over there and give it a read!

I honestly didn't know very much about Indonesia before reading these interviews. I know some missionaries who live in India and I've heard them pray in the latest language. I also knew that Indonesia is primarily a Muslim country, but that was the extent of my knowledge until now.

Let's welcome Cilla and Tasya!

Disclaimer: The content below may be culturally shocking to some. Each of these posts are as uncensored as possible to preserve the authenticity of the cultures of each of the interviewees.

(None of the Images are Mine)

Hello there! My name is Cilla, and I grew up in a city in East Java, Indonesia. I’m being specific about it, because I think if you’d like to write about an Indonesian character, being specific is a good idea. Indonesia is huge and hugely diverse. It is made up of about 13 thousands islands, home to 215 million people from 200 different ethnic backgrounds. It acknowledges five different religions: Islam, Christian, Catholic, Hinduism, and Buddhism. While Bahasa Indonesia is spoken nationally as the official language, in practice it is often peppered with the local language. So, I - the Catholic city girl of Chinese descent - may have quite a different experience from someone living in another city or small town, on a different island, raised with a different ethnic and religious background. Blog//Twitter//Instagram//Bloglovin

Hi! My name is Tasya, and I’m currently a biotechnology student. I am Indonesian, and I’ve lived here my whole life. My hobbies are reading, writing, swimming, and eating. When I’m not at uni, I bet you can find me in the nearby restaurant 😃 I’m a proud Indonesian and I have written about my countries several times on my blog.

What do you feel is unique to your country? Landmarks? Celebrations?

Cilla: There are so many, I can’t possibly list it all out. The first one that pops to mind is Borobudur Temple. It was once considered one of the seven wonders of the world, for good reasons. The temple was apparently built without any kind of glue, and it’s held on for centuries!

There’s also Wae Rebo, which is a tiny, rather isolated village that holds traditional houses of the Mbaru Niang people. The houses are conical rather than square, which I believe is unique to this part of the world.

As for celebrations, Ngaben is a cremation ceremony that is unique to Balinese culture. I actually have never seen it myself, but I’ve heard it’s quite fascinating to watch!


 Tasya: Indonesia is comprised of many islands (17.000-18.000 the last time I checked), so it’s a perfect country if you’re looking for summer getaway. I bet you’ve heard of Bali, Lombok, or Raja Ampat? Yep, they are all in Indonesia! Other than islands, we also have pretty impressive landmark here. Indonesia is very rich in culture, each islands have their own culture, so you can visit some of them like the temples in Bali and of course, the famous Borobudur in East Java. We’re also historically rich, being under colonialism for so long, so we have a lot of national monuments like monas, which is the trademark of Jakarta and Old Town in Jakarta, which is a place used as town hall in Dutch era, but now is a museum and it maintains its Dutch colonial building style.


Old Town
Tell me about your country's environment. What are some of your favorite places?

Cilla: Temperature-wise, it is warm, hot, or really hot. It’s dry and humid for half of the year, and then torrential downpour is a regular occurrence for the other half of the year. There are parts of Indonesia where the temperature is regularly in the 20 degrees Celsius, but these are mostly in the mountainous areas.

I live in a big city with a lot of shopping malls and insane traffic, which is common in the big cities, but that’s not what all of Indonesia looks like. There are little villages in green, lush environments like Wae Rebo above. There are beautiful beaches, like the ones in Bali and Lombok. There are gorgeous mountains, like Mount Bromo. My favourite place is my hometown, for obvious reasons, but I also love shopping at the strips of factory outlet in Bandung and visiting the island of Flores (at least the parts of it that is on the cooler side!)

Mount Bromo
Jakarta Shopping Mall
Tasya: Indonesia has only 2 seasons, summer and rain season, and it’s ALWAYS hot. Even when the rainy season. So the first thing people notice when they set foot in Indonesia is the heat 😃 Usually, it’s summer from March-August and rainy for the rest of the year, but lately the climate has been erratic. I live in Jakarta and the traffic there is horrendous. But my favorite place is definitely the Thousand Islands (nope, this is not a sauce), which is an isles located 1 hour away from Jakarta by boat. It’s comprised of many small islands, with clean water that is perfect for snorkeling. Some of my favorites is Pramuka, Pari, and Tidung.


Tell me about your country's food. What are some of your favorite dishes?

Cilla: Indonesian food, in general, are full of spices and packed with flavours. One of my favourites is nasi pecel. This is a rice dish served with warm vegetables and peanut sauce. The vegetables can be anything really, and you can add fried tempeh (a traditional soy product) or even chicken; the peanut sauce dressing is the absolutely crucial ingredient. Add a cracker on the side, and it’s even better.

I also love oxtail soup, which is so delicious when they get it right, and martabak. Martabak is originally an Indian cuisine, I believe, but I’m not sure if they have the sweet kind too. The sweet version is basically a much bigger version of the English crumpet. The best kind has an unhealthy amount of chocolate sprinkles (what the Dutch called hagelslag, so there’s that influence), cheese, condensed milk, and butter on top. It’s my ultimate comfort food.

Nasi Pacel
 Tasya: In Indonesia, our main food is rice. We eat rice everytime, and there’s the saying that said “Indonesian won’t feel full if they haven’t feel rice”. Personally, I agree xD We use a lot of spices on our food and most of our cuisines are spicy. You might have heard of the famous rendang and satay, both of dishes use lots of spices. Satay itself has different variations, depending on its origin. While they are the most famous, that doesn’t mean they are my favorites. Some of my favorites Indonesian food are soto, nasi liwet, and nasi goreng.

Nasi Goreng

Nasi Liwet



Tell me about any different speech patterns in your country. Slang? Idioms? Words for things such as “biscuits” instead of “cookies”?
Cilla: Bahasa Indonesia is the official national language. It’s influenced by Dutch, as we have a long history of colonialism with the Netherlands, but it is common for English words to pop up in the language too. It’s often spoken with the influence of the local language of the area. For instance, I speak Indonesian with a heavy Javanese dialect on a daily basis, but I’ll be speaking it quite formally when I’m holding a conversation someone from a different island, or even a different part of Java.

(As a side note, it irks me to no end when people say we speak Bahasa. Bahasa in Indonesian literally means ‘language’. Of course we speak a language.)
 Tasya: Like I said, Indonesia is culturally rich. Each island or area have their own cultures, which have different traditional language. So even though they are from the same island, the language may be different. Like the Island of Java is differentiated into 6 provinces; West Java and Banten use Sundanese as its traditional language, Jakarta use Betawinese and while Central, Yogyakarta and East all use Javanese, their dialect are different.

Our national language is Indonesian, and it’s a bit similar with Malaysian. The reason is because we came from the same roots. The thing about Indonesian language is, there are a lot of words and particles that can have different meaning depending on the tone of the speaker. We also don’t use tenses (past, present, future) and our words are all gender-neutral.

Describe briefly a regular day in your country.
Cilla: A regular day in Indonesia would vary widely depending on what you do and which part of the country you come from, I think. I used to work from 12pm to 9pm, while other people do the usual 9-5 office jobs. If you live in a busy city with poor public transport, better get up super early and be prepared for a crawling traffic! Public transport tends to have poor reputation in terms of safety and reliability, so it is common to either drive or ride a motorbike (which is why traffic is often very ridiculous). Then when you finish for the day, you go home and do your thing, or you go somewhere else to do your thing. It’s really not that different from life anywhere else, I imagine.

Tasya: Welp. Our days starts really early, because if you’re late only by half an hour, the traffic is horrendous *shudders*. School and work hours usually start at the same time, at 7 am which is why the traffic is so bad. Some school decided to take the initiatives, and make the school starts earlier at 6.30 to avoid the traffic 😊 School will usually be done at 3 or 4 pm, and most students will take extra courses outside of school to help with school work. The office hours usually end at 5 pm. When the students reach home, they still need to study for tomorrow’s test and homework, before they are sleeping.  We don’t really do clubs or drinking, even on the weekends, when we have weekend out, we usually just go to cafes or watch movies. 

 How does your country compare to others, especially the States since my audience is primarily American? Environmentally? Politically? Culturally?

Cilla: I find this question really hard to answer, because I don’t feel I know enough of USA to make comparisons without veering into stereotypes. I guess for a start, Indonesia is a tropical country rather than a four-seasoned one. We are younger than USA as a country, and only started moving into democracy in my lifetime, so we are still dealing with growing pain. For instance, we’re still working on uprooting a culture of corruption in the system. As for the cultural comparison, I think we’re often not as blunt as Americans tend to be. There will be individual differences, but where I’m from people feel it’s considered polite to beat around the bush a little rather than engage in direct confrontations.

Tasya: Culturally, ours is more conservative. The norms and rules are very strict here. We can’t drink and smoke, especially teenagers, because some school do random urine test (like mine was). Drugs are illegal. Some parents even not allowing their children to be in a relationship, and free sex is something that truly frowned at in our society. But we put our family highly, prioritizing them over anything. It’s not rare to see 3 generations living in the same house, or meeting your very distant relatives that your parents still know well at parties. We also really respect adults, always use titles like “sir, mam, uncle, auntie” and so on, even with someone with only a year difference for us. 

Politically, I think the current political situation is like the calm before storm. Our current president is pretty good at handling political affairs, he’s also humble and close to his people. But the current governmental election really brings out the worst in everyone, whether they are supporters, oposition, or just sideliners in general.

Joko Widodo Jokowi President of Indonesia

Briefly describe three of your country’s historical events that you feel are important.


  • Our independence day. Indonesia had been colonised by the Netherlands for 300ish years and then by Japan for 3.5 years (and Britain and Portuguese are somewhere in there too) before we declared our independence in 1945, not long after the bombing of Pearl Harbour. Prior to this day, Indonesia was just a bunch of separate colonies. Much is made in our history classes about how we were never able to successfully push back against colonialists until we became a united force.
  • Gus Dur’s Sixth Presidential Decision. Starting from 1967, there was a set of laws banning Indonesia’s Chinese diaspora from practicing their cultures. It requires a long discussion about politics and racial relationships to get into the details and reasons, but the important event for me is this: in 2000, Indonesia’s fourth president, known largely as Gus Dur, revoked those laws. Chinese New Year became a national holiday and has been celebrated publicly since. Though not a solution to discrimination, from then on such discrimination was no longer backed by the state.
  • The fall of Suharto. Indonesia’s second president, Suharto, shaped much of its history. After all, he was the president for 32 years. Much can be said about him, either good or bad, but his fall from power was pretty much the start of Indonesia’s democratic era. It was a violent, unstable period marked by riots against particular ethnicity groups, protestors disappearing in the middle of the night, massive monetary crises, and university students staging demonstrations that would often turn ugly. Certainly not a part of history anyone would look back fondly upon, but it was an important one.
    Indonesia Independence Day

 •    Our independence day at August 17, 1945 obviously, since it’s the birth of our country as an independent country.
•    September 30, 1965, the famous coup I mentioned above, also known as G30SPKI. It killed 6 generals, 4 other army and 1 civilians. It shook our people, prompting an anti-comunist purge where even more people were killed unjustly and the change in presidency from Soekarno to Soeharto.
•    May 21, 1998, the resignation of Soeharto. The 1998 financial crisis hit us hard, and it was found out later that Soeharto’s family used his power to do massive corruption. The people were angry and what followed was a huge revolution known as 1998 riot. Around 1000 people were killed, and after few days of uncontrollable situation, Soeharto finally relented and resigned as president.

These events are the most important to us, because I think it symbolises the power struggle and switch between them. From the Dutch who colonialize us to our own people (Soekarno); from Soekarno who was to blinded by power that he could see his people, resulting in the bloody coup, to what we saw as a strong general, a better leader (Soeharto); and from Soeharto who abuses his power to the real power of people through riot.

What are some stereotypes about your country that irk you? What media portrays your country badly be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?

Cilla: I haven’t seen a lot of Indonesian characters in Western media, so it’s hard to say. However, one time someone I’d just met made a comment about how all Indonesians are rich and like to shop a lot. Noooo. Sure, there are some Indonesians who have the money to spend on branded items, but not all of us do. 

Tasya: I really hate how we are portrayed as poor and slums. Sure, we have some slums. But we also have cities and beautiful places. Also, while many of us work as maids in foreign countries, it doesn’t mean that all of us are poor and uneducated. A lot of us has a degree, it’s just the job field can’t accomodate the people that needed jobs (we’re the 4th most populated countries). 

Indonesian School Boys

What media portrays your country well be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?

Cilla: Eat, Pray, Love does pretty well with portraying Bali, but that’s the only one I can think of. Magnus Bane in Cassandra Clare’s novels is half-Indonesian, but the immortal warlock isn’t exactly representative of the country. If you’d like to know more about Indonesia, read these novels by Indonesian writers.  

Tasya: I don’t really know, since Indonesia itself don’t get a lot of exposure in foreign media. I think Eat Pray Love is one of the good ones, it shows the beautiful nature, peaceful life, and religious side of Bali. Another movie is Rainbow Troops (Laskar Pelangi), but it’s an Indonesian movie so I don’t know if it’s count. It also shows the beauty of Belitung, and the simple happiness of people who live in the village there.

Who are your top three favorite characters native to your country in books, movies, or shows?

Cilla: Andrea Hirata’s The Rainbow Troop has some brilliant children, but that’s about the only example I can think of that an international audience would recognise. One day, I hope this list would be much, much longer!


  • Si Pitung: He’s like our own Robin Hood, stealing from the Dutch and share the things with the poor Indonesians. Sadly, he was executed when he was caught.
  • Roro Jonggrang: I mentioned her before in one of my post, so basically she’s a princess who cursed into a stone statue. I always love her story, the suitor underestimated her power because her kingdom has been conquered. But she outsmarted him, even though it cost her life, she avenged her people.
  • Kuntilanak: Okay, this one is more scary that favorite, but it’s my favorite ghost because it scares me the most. So Kuntilanak is said as ghost of women who died during childbirth. They can kill and kidnap children. It is said if her laugh sounds near, then she’s far, but if the laugh sounds far, then she’s near. The scary thing is, they are everywhere, from bamboo trees, banana trees, or just huge trees in general. They also reside in old houses, tunnels, bridges... like literally everywhere. A lot of people actually scared of them, because they often appeared as beautiful women before killing you.

Thank you, Cilla and Tasya, for this very informative post! I hope everyone enjoyed reading it. Come back next week for So Your Character is from Sri Lanka ...!

Are you interested in participating in this project? Check out the tips archive to see which countries have been filled and if you're from a different country, shoot me an email at howellvictoriagrace(a)gmail(dot)com.

Do you have any Indonesian characters? Did this inspire you to write a Indian character or set a book in Indonesia? Are from this or been to this country and you have further input? Feel free to share! Do you have any questions for Cilla and Tasya? Be sure to thank them!

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