June 28, 2023

Indonesia, May 2019

A Trip to the Motherland

As someone who was born in the United States, Indonesia technically isn't my motherland. But it is the motherland of my mother, and I think that counts for something.

The first time I visited Indonesia was when I was 5 years old, too young to truly understand the insight it gave me into my mom's life. I do remember, however, watching my older cousins play The Sims (a game I wasn't allowed to play at home in the States), learning to swim in a hotel pool in Bali, and having my hair braided in a style called anyam rambut (or hair weaving), a Papuan tradition that originates from the hand-weaving of a noken bag.

This time, in 2019, I was visiting for my cousin's wedding, an extravagant affair that spanned two weekends. The first wedding ceremony took place in a Catholic church in Jakarta, where my family is from. Following the ceremony was a reception in a banquet hall, where wedding guests sat around circular tables and passed Chinese food the table using its Lazy Susan. It reminded me of Chinese New Year celebrations in the States, when we would gather with other Chinese-Indonesian families at some restaurant up the Bay and we, the kids, would receive red envelopes. At these celebrations, we would have shark fin soup, an expensive delicacy traditionally embodied notions of hospitality, status and good fortune. Today, the dish's consumption has become more morally complicated, its luck now tainted by ethical implications.

The second ceremony took place in Surabaya, where the groom's family resides. Surabaya, located 781 kilometers east of Jakarta on the island of Java, is known for its extravagant weddings. Although I haven't seen the movie myself, I would posit that this ceremony was akin to that featured in Crazy Rich Asians (2018). One can gather a gist of the opulence by with a preliminary Google search of "Surabaya wedding." This is, in effect, exactly what my cousin's (second) wedding ceremony looked like—decadent floral decorations, a multi-hundred person guest list, and a 10-course seafood dinner.

Before, in between, and after these ceremonies, my family and I found ourselves in true vacation mode. Our first stop was Labuan Bajo, a fishing town in the East Nusa Tenggara province of Indonesia. From here, we set sail on a boat for three days, docking to hike up Padar Island, swim at Pink Beach, and observe the wildlife (Komodo dragons included) at Komodo National Park. We flew to Bali, where we stayed with family friends, watched the famous Kecak Fire Dance performance at Uluwatu Temple, tried kopi luwak (civet coffee, a coffee that consists of partially digested coffee cherries, which have been eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet), and visited Kanto Lampo Waterfall in Gianyar.

While I wasn't able to capture all of these experiences, below are a few snapshots that might piece together a bigger picture:

Hiking up Padar Island
A view of AYANA Komodo's Naga Pier
Komodo National Park
Drying rack at my family home
A statue at Uluwatu Temple
Looking out the window of AYANA Komodo
A view of Padar Island