Last Sunday my family asked me if I wanted to go shopping with them in Tulungagung. Lured by promises of popcorn and peanut butter (my staples here), I eagerly agreed. Sunday morning I was up early, only to find out that our departure was delayed thanks to Farid’s band practice at school. My family was concerned because they told me that by mid-morning it would already be very busy. “Aren’t we going to a food store?” I thought. “Well, I’m sure they know what they’re talking about.”
We finally hit the road around 10 and about twenty minutes later we arrived at Apollo Department Store. “Do you want a jacket or a shirt?” my host sister asked me. “What happened to popcorn?” I thought. “Umm…I don’t know?” I responded, to buy myself time (this is my most common strategy when faced with new situations here). We entered the store. It was a mad house, a stuffy mob of humanity: people shoving each other, long lines at the changing rooms, department store attendants spaced apart every 10 feet waiting to assist customers. “I haven’t seen this a store this crowded since Black Friday!” I thought. Then it hit me that this was a pretty accurate comparison because Idul Fitri, the end of Ramadan, is a Muslim’s biggest holiday of the year. It’s like Christmas, so it’s appropriate that the weeks leading up to Idul Fitri would be like the weeks leading up to Christmas in the States.
During Idul Fitri (also called Lebaran here in Indonesia) everyone travels back to their families to ask for forgiveness for any sins they committed during the year. They visit families, neighbors, employers, teachers, and friends to mohon maaf (apologize) and consume a ton of snacks and drinks. I have yet to experience this, but I think it might make up for a month of fasting. Also, children receive money and everyone wears new clothes.
And that brings up back to Apollo Department Store, where my family was ready to buy our Idul Fitri gear. I must really be part of the family now, because I was included in this tradition. “Jacket or Shirt?” my family asked again. “Shirt,” I said.
When I first heard that everyone wears new clothes for Idul Fitri, I assumed they dressed up real fancy. But in Apollo we just looked at regular casual clothes. It struck me that when I get clothes for Christmas, they are usually casual as well. Anyway, I picked out a plaid shirt, which wasn’t hard because I swear at least half the shirts in that store were plaid or striped. I felt slightly guilty that my family was paying for me, but it would have been rude to try to pay when they invited me and offered. I have yet to figure out Indonesian gift-giving culture…
But even though my family wouldn’t let me pay, they did have a job for me. I was expected to pick out a new shirt for Farid. How I was qualified to chose a 13-year-old boy’s new clothes, I do not know. But I dutifully examined all the options: black-and-white striped polo, yellow-and-white striped polo, orange-and-grey striped polo…it was a difficult decision. I would chose a potential shirt and Bu Nova, Farid’s mom would hold it up to his back to see if it would fit. Farid hated this. He tried to squirm away every time and when Bu Nova’s back was turned he would start dashing off until she noticed and called his name loudly. I found this hilarious, but I never had to suffer through the experience of being a 13-year-old boy clothes shopping with my mom in a crowded store, so I guess I couldn’t relate. As soon as we picked the shirt (orange-and-grey) Farid disappeared to play video games at the arcade in the back of the store. I couldn’t blame him.
Meanwhile, we had to fight the lines. A note on lines in Indonesia: they don’t really exist. People just shove their way where they want to go. You have to be pushy here if you want attention. I have been in supermarkets and I’ve been ready to hand the cashier my items when an ibu will push her way past me and throw her goods down on the counter. Being a foreigner and not wanting to offend anyone, I usually just bite my lip and wait. But in Apollo, waiting was not an option. If you weren’t pushy, people would walk all over you. Luckily for me, Bu Nova was the one who had to be pushy, not me! Once we picked out a garment, an attendant would write a receipt and hand it to us to take to the counter. The garment, meanwhile, was bundled up and handed to another attendant who was standing on a chair to see above the crowd. He – always male – would throw the bundle to the next attendant; there was a whole network of attendants-on-chairs. They would toss the garment to the next one and the next one until it reached the counter. Meanwhile, we headed to the counter, receipt in hand. This is when pushiness came into play. Every counter was swarmed by a mob of people. You had to elbow your way in and hand your receipt to an attendant who would locate your garment. She would hand the receipt to the cashier who would ask for your money. A third attendant handed your garment and change to you. It was an assembly line of sorts, every person playing their part quickly and efficiently.
It was exhausting. Despite the AC, the store was stuffy and humid. I was sweating, and my stomach was growling. I’m not good at shopping on an empty stomach back home, and this was only multiplied by the fact that I was fasting and I knew it would be another 6+ hours until I could eat. But, I got a new shirt, courtesy of my generous family, so I can’t complain too much.
We left Apollo. “Are we going home?” I wondered. Nope. Next stop was an equally crowded store that reminded me of Kitchen Kaboodle meets Linens ‘N Things. There were containers of any shapes and sizes (Indonesians love containers), tea sets, kitchen utensils, beddings, curtains, fake flowers, décor, etc. The stuffiness, the crowds, and the exhaustion repeated themselves.
Next we went to Toko Merah. This was the food store, finally! It was much smaller than I anticipated and looked and smelled like small Asian stores back in the states (Mom, think Anzen’s Market). The smells were overwhelming to me since I was so hungry and thirsty. But, true to their word, Bu Wiji found me popcorn! I also found minyak seree, citronella oil, a natural mosquito repellent.
“Ok, let’s go home,” my family said. I couldn’t have been more ready. Of course, we made two or three more stops along the way, mostly grocery shopping, but I stayed in the car and dozed. We were finally home by 2 PM, and I was just as tired as I have ever been after shopping on Black Friday back home.
August 14, 2012 at 11:04 pm
Hi Sarah, My name is Rudik, an Indonesian who lived in Jakarta Area. Blog’s walking is my little hobby and my search about Peace Corp info’s has leaded me here, and by accident i stranded here and wished or not, i am be one of your blog’s fan now. Trust me i has read completely from beginning and even read for twice some blog post which is very interesting topic for me. My friend in Pacitan (about 200 km go west from your area), has a friend of a PCV there, so this the matter why i so “penasaran” what is PCV activities about. I like completely about your perspectives for the culture and condition in Indonesia, pure from a foreigner view just like you described in the blog posts. So, i can’t wait to read your upcoming posts updates.
August 19, 2012 at 5:01 am
Hello Sarah! My family and I just learned we are moving to Indonesia soon. I am truly enjoying your descriptions of the places/peoples and overall experiences thus far. Please keep posting. I will have two kids in high school there. I’m curious as to what a typical school year means- are they out during the rainy season?
August 19, 2012 at 5:02 am
Must recant… not exactly soon. Summer 2013