Tangerang: Obama, Shopping Malls, and Breaking Laws in Supermarkets

Posted on July 24, 2012 by

After two
days of briefings on education and culture of Indonesia, we were ready to leave
Jakarta and head to our respective host schools.
  The 11 TGC fellows are split among six
different locations all over Indonesia, none of us really knowing exactly what
we would encounter once we left the comfort of our large group and the Jakarta


As the host
teachers began arriving to pick us up, it felt a bit like the end of camp as we
packed our bags and headed in different directions, each promising to keep in
  There was some comfort in being
together, and I found myself nervous about heading off with unknown people in a
car in the middle of Indonesia!

Fortunately, my teaching partner Amy and I share a love of adventure and
daring, and we took a deep breath, said goodbye, and headed for our first stop,
Barack Obama’s elementary school.
The statue
that welcomes visitors was once in a nearby park, but the Indonesians, fiercely
loyal to their culture, felt it didn’t represent their entire country and moved
it to his elementary school.


Because it was
Sunday, we had arranged special entrance to the school grounds.
  What delighted us as we walked the campus’
brightly colored, Dutch inspired buildings were the many inspirational signs
hanging from each hallway.
  Two of my personal favorites were hanging above the English rooms.  It continues to impress me just how eager Indonesians are to learn English, and although many signs, menus, and directions use our language, if we look just beneath the surface there isn’t a collective use of or understanding of English among the general population.

After a 45-minute
car trip at impressive speeds, the host teacher graciously unloaded at Hotel
Sandika and escorted us directly into the adjacent shopping mall.  I’m sure we garnered many stares as we
giggled with excitement and wonder at the bounty before us!
We spent
nearly an hour enraptured by the bookstore – sort of a cross between Borders,
Office Max and Target; we happily searched for useful items for our upcoming teaching
assignment, as well as a few children’s bilingual Indonesian/English books. I
love the interesting translations of titles and the different types of fashion



 I always find it fascinating to visit grocery stores when I travel – even when I cannot read the product names, I’m so curious about what people buy on a daily basis.  Is this what I would eat for breakfast if I lived here? 
I’ve never seen such a variety of mangoes!

immediately began snapping photos of the unusual fruits, vegetables and….eels?
  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a bucket
of squirming creatures; a squeal erupted, and was immediately confronted by the
uniformed security guard and told to stop taking photos.
  Who knew I would break the law in a grocery

We left a
bit disappointed that beer is unavailable in the grocery store here, but
satisfied with our snacks and exhausted from the over stimuli.
  Although Tangerang appears to be more Chinese
Buddhist than Muslim, the fact that it is Ramadan hasn’t escaped us – the broadcast
prayers in the background above the continually piped in Kenny G
tunes are a constant reminder.

Today I had
to muster up a different kind of courage – it wasn’t the
in-the-pen-with-a-Komodo-dragon type, but that inner courage that comes from
having to do that which is outside my comfort zone.  As we whizzed down the Jakarta freeway with
complete strangers, I had to pause and remind myself of where I was in the
universe, and that we would be ok.  It
wasn’t a trembling kind of fear of imminent danger, but that spinning kind of
unstable, feet lifting off the ground, I’m-not-in-Kansas-anymore feeling I only get when I’m far, far away from what I know best. 
At times, I felt much more at ease here than I should; surrounded
by Wendy’s, Starbucks, Baskin Robbins and Celebrity Fitness makes me feel like
I’m back in California.  But when my
innocence gets me reprimanded, and I cannot speak the language, I’m reminded
that my culture needs to take the backseat for a while.
Thank goodness
for my teaching buddy.  I’m so glad I’m not alone.  Now, where did I
leave those ruby slippers?


Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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