Every Sunday morning just after daybreak, I go for a long walk with Pak Inung, our batik factory owner. We walk in the surrounding neighborhoods, which include rice fields, small farms, home industry brick and batik production, housing developments, new construction and small villages. We talk about everything on our walk, including; building techniques and styles, culture, language, religion, business, and more, all in Indonesian.
On some mornings we encounter a gaggle of 100 or more ducklings, being herded by a man waving a small flag on a stick. The ducklings are moved from one harvested rice field to another to forage for food. The rice farmers are happy to allow the foraging because the ducklings leave behind fertilizer for the next rice crop.
I’m thankful that Pak Inung speaks slowly, so I can follow everything he says. We often meet other people on our walk, and always greet them with great respect whether we know them or not, often asking after their health, and always ask permission to continue on our walk.
The Indonesian language is very poetic and musical, a great language for art and their culture, but not direct or exacting enough for international business. Because of this, many English words have been adopted or modified for the Indonesian language.
I am now conversational, thinking directly in the Indonesian language. The odd thing is when I understand something directly in their language and try to translate it into English, I get confused and it does not work word for word. To translate one language to the other takes understanding the full concept, throwing away the words and starting fresh in the other language.
Here are a few examples…
To say “no problem” they say "tidak apa apa" but directly translated it means "no what what".
The word for sun is "matahari" directly translated "eye day".
The word for ankle is “mata kaki” directly translated “eye foot”.
Bathroom is "kamar kecil" directly translated "room small".
Our phrase “one step at a time” translates to “Sedikit, sediket, lama, lama, menjadi bukit”… directly it translates to “little bit, little bit, long time, long time, succeed hill”.
There is so much prayer, ritual and feeling in everything the Javanese people do, and a tight community feeling is very apparent. Maintaining proper feeling is the most important thing here, as well as respect and proper behavior.
Proper behavior is a very detailed affair. They tolerate foreigners who do not know or understand, but if you follow the customs, and behave correctly, much more becomes open and possible. They love that Debra and I follow their social customs and rules, and speaking their language, no matter how poorly, really pleases them.
One of the challenging parts of our job is to be the bridge or translator between the two cultures, aside from our main job of designing wonderful batiks for the quilting industry.
To read Part 1 of this article, click here.