Today will be nearly impossible to top. We've been in Indonesia for 3 days and we've already experienced many unforgettable moments. After spending a day immersing ourselves in Indonesian culture, we headed over to the ginormous mall in Jakarta. I rarely use the word ginormous, but I definitely feel it was warranted. It’s as if this mall ate the Mall of America. Walking through the security check points and into the lightly air conditioned foyer, it strangely felt like home. Looking at the copious amount of stores, illuminating English sales and deals, with familiar brands such as H&M and Forever 21, it was easy to forget we are halfway around the world. Given the directive that we had an hour to enjoy the mall before meeting back up, a small crew joined up to venture out into the unknown. Almost immediately though we realized that something was awry. In front of us was a sea of people with cell phones hovering high above everyone’s heads, with a loud commotion commencing. Not knowing what was going on, perhaps foolishly, I headed over towards the commotion. The little angel on my shoulder, I call a conscious now ran through what was supposed to happen that didn’t occur the previous day. We were supposed to keep low key and away from massive crowds, but needless to say, my curiosity was calling. Who could this be, the Indonesian Justin Bieber? It had to be someone one important as the crown continued to grow. Through the commotion, as people could easily spot that we were foreigners, let us know what the hubbub was about. This was President Jokowi, taking a stroll through the mall, or at least attempting to. Moving about three steps every minute and flanked by security that seemed to be allowing the chaos but keeping it in check at the same time, he smiled and posed for pictures. Rarely ever uttering a single word, but waving politely at the camera for the lucky few in the front to take a selfie, he was calm in the eye of the hurricane growing around him. Being that this was a foreign dignitary, let alone the leader of the 4th most populated country in the world, I couldn’t hep but think this was super relaxed security. Would Donald Trump ever allow common folk to chaotic swirl around him? I can’t imagine, but this man without knowing his policies was sending to me a clear picture, he was one of the people. The slender and modestly dressed president crawled past a few stores at a time. I wondered if this was something special we were seeing, was there a purpose, and how often does this happen. Realizing that in Indonesia, my 6’1” height made me feel like a giant, I joined the scrum and walked towards the mosh pit. Holding my camera high, I was able to take a few, what I presumed bury pictures. Looking at Doug, the other social studies teacher, we were abuzz with how cool this moment is. The aisles above and below us were littered with people as well, looking at the sight of the mob of people. The angel on my shoulder kept telling me to stay away from this type of scene. Trying for a moment to get closer was futile, as it was pretty packed, so I retreated to the outside, safely. Moments later I saw Doug walking out from the center, having taken a selfie with the president! The rest of the group walked away, amazed at what we saw. Shopping with all this commotion going on seemed impossible, so Jennifer asked me if I wanted to go back and get a picture. Telling the angel on my shoulder that I’ll be in touch later, I joined her as did Craig, and tried to scope out the best spot and the perfect angel to B-line directly to Jokowi. Hoping that since she’s a female, she shouldn’t be forced around as much as everyone else, and the fact that our brightly colored outfits made us stick out, let alone our ethnicities, maybe this could serve to help our cause. Inching our way, with every swerve, nook and cranny being taken by us, we made our way in front of him, about 5 layers of people away. Jennifer told me she had a plan, “Let’s tell the body guards we are American teachers”. If I could facepalm myself at that moment I would have, but my arms were clearly stuck at my side due to the close quarters. Since I had really no other option, she tried her strategy as we got close. This could turn out as planned with a picture or that little angel would be telling me, “I told you so”. As we were butted up against the glass of the chic store Mango, we were within moments of success or utter failure. Jennifer went in for the kill as I looked for Craig and couldn’t find him. Still cool as a cucumber, Jokowi smiled and took a few selfies occasionally, barely moving forward. The guards were getting more agitated and forceful, pushing the man who was forcing his way to the center out of the way. Finally once Jennifer got to the closest body guard, she said, “We are American teachers, we’d like a picture”. He had her repeat herself, and the security guard told Jokowi. He signaled with his finger to have us come forward. With the triumph of the trip upon us, I felt a strong tug on my shoulder, being pulled by security. Not now! I was so close. I scrambled with what to say, knowing that I hope he understands English. I told him, “Wait no! I’m with her!” Looking puzzled, like who is she, which is honestly a good question from his point of view, another guard told him that I was in fact with Jennifer, and to let me go. Here I was with her, standing with Jokowi, but I wasn’t sure how to take a selfie to make this an actual decent picture. So amidst the chaos, I handed the camera to a guard, possibly the one that moments prior tried to kick me out, and he started to take a few pictures. Thankful so much for that amazing experience, I looked him in the eyes, smiled, said, “Thank you”, which he said the same back to me, and I shook his hand. Tumbling and bumbling my way out of the pit, relieved that the craziness was over, we all decided to get as far away from the pit as we had had our fill. I thought, I hope Sarah from IREX didn’t see that, because that’s two days of us causing a scene. Gathering our thoughts and losing half our mini group, Jennifer and I gushed at what we were able to obtain. Unfortunately, Craig wasn’t able to join us. Indonesia trip was made. With 40 minutes left to kill, I was on cloud nine, and nothing was going to take this high away. The closest experience I can compare that moment to, was in Alaska when at the beginning of the trip we were lucky enough to see whales. At that moment I thought that this trip was made, and I could go home and be happy. Finding along my elated walk through the mall other fellows, I was giddy to share my insane experience with anyone who would listen (even if perhaps they didn’t want to). Meeting back up with Sarah and Dewi, I wasn’t sure what there reaction would be, but thankfully we were met with sheer excitement, and from Dewi especially, humorous jealousy. She said “I’ve never seen Jokowi and that what we experienced is the same as me coming to your country and taking a picture with Obama or Trump”. This solidified that we experienced something special. And now... everything else that happened... Breakfast never ending buffet featuring an insane amount of traditional Indonesian cuisine, we had a fantastic presentation on my bread and butter, the culture, geography, and history of Indonesia. Throughout the entire presentation, similar themes continued to appear, such as that Indonesia is very unique by the many islands separating the people, creating different cultures and customs. After the presentation, we went to the Batik Textile Museum in Jakarta. The museum housed Batik traditional artwork from every main part of Indonesia. Each unique place had a very unique spin on batik tapestry. Batik is the Indonesian technique for creating beautiful tapestry. It involves dipping a special wooden device, with a piece of metal on the end into a pot of hot wax. Trust me, I know it’s hot because it dripped on me a couple of times by accident. The quant museum had us trying to create our own Batik design, which was really relaxing and enjoyable. Dipping the device into the wax and outlining our design was a great surprise for us to work on in Indonesia. When we were finished, we handed our work off to two gentlemen who had a process where they they dipped our cloth into boiling hot water and later into a dye color of our choosing. The finished results looked extremely impressive, and I really appreciated the intricate craftsmanship put forth by the Batik artists in their time intensive work. Afterwards, we toured the museum, which had different Batik pieces from each province in the country. The styles varied from region to region. Finishing up at the museum, we went to the mall (see craziness above and rejoin me back here). After the mall, we headed back to the hotel for dinner on our own. A small group of us were the only ones brave enough to exit the confines of the hotel, and we walked several blocks to where we thought the directions we were given told us to go to. Seeing Jakarta from the street, amidst the chaotic traffic on the other side of the barricade, this personal view of the city was a great way to soak in the amazing day. When the group realizing that we had gone the wrong way after a while, it made me thankful for the times when we were in the states and could access our phones and GPS. Eventually arriving at the planned restaurant, I had an amazing noodle meal that showcased fine Indonesian dining. Making our way back to the hotel, it was time to try and calm down. Resting my head on the pillow never felt so good.
About Matthew Cottone
Experience the World! This is my creed I bring to my classroom and my life. I'm a World Studies teacher at Van Hoosen Middle School and I have a passion for learning and experiencing the world.