Thursday, March 20, 2008

Day 1 (15/3/2008 evening) - Into the unknown

After our brief introduction, Mutiara immediately took me to the terminal next to the department store. It was not a bus terminal. But terminal for "angkutan". To my untrained eyes, all "angkutan" looks the same - blue low-cost-non-air-condition-MPV converted to ferry more people than the conventional MPV. I followed her into an "angkutan". Apparently each MPV has numbers that correspond to certain routes. Very much like the pink mini buses that used to ply various routes in Kuala Lumpur. So there I was, following a 'stranger' into an "angkutan", clueless as to where exactly we were heading.

I only told the hotel front desk that I was heading to Cibinong. I 'sms'ed my brother in Malaysia telling him I was heading to Bogor (Cibinong is least likely to appear in any tourist brochure). The thought of being kidnapped and never to return home did crossed my mind. But if I'm fated not to return home, it could even happen in Malaysia. So I let the Almighty decides. Besides, the young lady gave me no negative vibes (I tend to pick up vibes from people I met, good or bad, imagined or otherwise).

Mutiara is a petite young lady. No taller than I, she could pass as a high school student. Her friendliness helped in breaking the ice. I was really glad that she was talkative. Otherwise we would have fallen into awkward silences for I'm a quiet person. She did most of the talking in the "angkutan". Amidst the noise in the "angkutan", her fast paced Bahasa Indonesia was lost to me. I couldn't exactly understood all her sentences. I think she was telling me how worried she was for me. But what the ears couldn't hear, the eyes could see. I could see sincerity in her face.

A few minutes later she asked the "angkutan" to stop. I soon found out that the word to say is not "berhenti (stop)". To stop, the locals say "kiri (left)". We got down by the road side. It was small two-lane road. But motorcycles, cars and "angkutan" seemed to drive fairly fast. We sort of dashed across the road.

Mutiara opened a gate (about the height of my waist). We walked along a short driveway - enough to fit a car. Then we came upon another gate. This one is higher and I couldn't see what was behind it. She slided the gate to the right. Just enough to let her petite body in. Normally the such ajar opening could fit me too. But that day I was carrying a backpack. I had to push the gate open. It was heavy. And earlier Mutiara did it effortlessly!

The gate opened to two houses. The big white house on the right seemed to be the main house. Opposite it was a small one room wooden house. We stopped for a while to meet a man whose name sounded like mine, his wife and his toddler. I assumed that he either rent there or worked there. At the porch of the big house was a man, fiddling with his bike. Mutiara briefly introduced me as her friend from Malaysia when we walked pass the man. We walked along the pathway, around the big house and through a small gate.

The gate and pathway lead to a huge lawn full of various trees. In the middle of the lawn is another big white house. The lawn could easily fit two medium-cost-KL-terrace-houses. My house could probably be half the size of the house. Mutiara opened the wooden door to reveal a simple living room with teak furnitures. She showed me the guest room. Though the furniture was simple - a single bed on the left, a study at the middle, and two cupboards - the room was big. Perhaps equivalent to my living room at home.

Mutiara introduced me to her elder sister, who came down from the upper floor (and whom from now on will be referred to as Kakak). Mutiara continued with her chores (sweeping, dusting etc.) while her sister chatted with me. Quite frankly I was glad that they were the ones who did most of the talking and asking. Otherwise, I wouldn't know what to talk about. They asked me about music and local (Indonesia / Malaysian) band. I admitted that I don't follow the entertainment scenes. Among the few update that I could give them was that 'Amy Search' won a million ringgit suit against a label company.

Once Mutiara was done with her chores, they both got ready. On our way out, we stopped by the small one room house. A lady was frying what Malaysian called "rempeyek / tempeyek" (local 'chips' with ground nuts on it). I told the sisters that in Malaysia there's a few variation for the 'toppings' - small red beans or small green beans or lentils. I had a hard time describing lentil to them. It is widely known as 'dal' in Malaysia. We couldn't find the Indonesia word for it. Only on my flight home did I finally discover that it is called "kedelai".

We walked a few metres to the main road. Not even five minutes later, an "angkutan" arrived. The three of us got on to it. We chatted and chatted. It is lost to me what we talked about. But they were both warm and friendly. Before long, we got down. I thought we had reached our destination. But no. We hopped into yet another "angkutan". As in the earlier bus in Cibinong, busker got into both "angkutan". They sang a short song and got off before the "angkutan" continued its journey.

Soon we reached the small town of Bogor. We went into a 'mall'. We stopped at a booth near the entrance. The booth specialized in selling MP3s for cellphones and printing photos from cellphones. The counter doubled as computer table. There were four monitors under the clear glass top. Customers use a mouse to preview the songs. The holes at the side of the table allowed sound to escaped from a concealed speaker. I thought the sisters wanted to buy the MP3s for the phone. I was mistaken. Turned out they were actually printing some photos from their cellphones.

Kakak asked me if I want to buy anything. As I don't normally shop, I couldn't think of anything to buy. Mutiara explained to her sister, that I, similar to Mutiara, don't like to shop. And so we proceed to do the next item on the list - buy a VCD. I had earlier told Mutiara that I wanted to buy "Denias Senandung Di Atas Awan (Denias Singing in the Cloud)". Not wanting to be caught 'importing' pirated VCD, we went to a proper VCD shop. I bought the original. The cost? It was about RM10. Other originals CDs and VCDs were equally cheap (when compared to Malaysian market price). But me being me, it never occurred in my mind to buy them.

Once I got my VCD (by the way, it is in Bahasa Indonesia, without subtitle), we went to a small lane across the road. The girls were careful to walk with me. They ensured that I was in between them and not left behind all the time. The word "Petaling Street" crossed my mind the minute we were in the small lane. Except for the fact that it was only one lane, all the other ambiance mimic that street in Kuala Lumpur. Kakak stopped at a stall to buy "VCD bajakan (pirated VCD)". I shall not reveal the title, but according to Mutiara, it is a film currently being screened in local "bioskop (cinema)". Later I told the sisters that most of the time I buy original VCDs if they are from local artists / producers. If the VCDs from "bule (foreigners)", I don't mind buying pirated copies because the foreigners are already rich.

We returned 'home' the same way we came. By "angkutan". At the place we switched to another "angkutan", Mutiara stopped to buy some "kuih" (loosely translates as pastry). She bought donuts. At the shop, I saw the sign "murtabak". In Malaysia "murtabak" would be a mixture of egg and beef (of chicken) wrapped in thin dough. I didn't see any familiar looking cooking utensil. What I saw was only a hot pan and a bowl of flour mixture. Mutiara noticed my curios look. She inquired if I would like to buy it. No. But I asked her what it was. She described it. Once she was done, I told her, in Malaysia, we called it "apam balik". Then proceed to describe her how "murtabak" looks like. To that she replied, "Itu murtabak telur (that's murtabak telur)".

By the time we reached her house, it was time for dinner. We stopped by a "Padang" restaurant. I ordered white rice with squid (or what they called "cumi") and tapioca ("singkong") shoot. The sisters didn't eat. I didn't really know why. Perhaps it was still too early for them to have dinner. A funny thing happened when the waiter took the order for my drink:
waiter: Mau minum apa mbak? (what would you like to drink, miss?)
me: [on the way to the sink to wash my hands, looked at the waiter] Air kosong. (plain water)
waiter: [stared blankly back at me]
me: Air suam. (warm water) [continued to walked at the sink]

I didn't realized my blunder. Later, at home, that night, when we were joined by Mutiara's "pacar" (steady boyfriend), Kakak's "pacar", and Mutiara's mom, did it was revealed to me. Locals call 'plain water' as "air putih". When I said "air kosong" everyone thought I was asking for an empty glass! I explained to everyone the rationale behind the names:
1. Air Kosong - because it is colourless. At least that is what it should be anyway.
2. Air Suam - because of its temperature - warm.

I also told them that "air kosong" sometimes come with ice. We laughed.

That prompted the best topic for ice breaking throughout the night - translation of commonly used Indonesian phrases into Malaysian phrases. Good thing both Mutiara and Kakak know sufficient English to translate certain words that we failed to describe in Bahasa Indonesia / Malaysia. Perhaps Mutiara's most favourite phrase is "tikus baiki labu (mouse repairs a pumpkin)". The phrase refer to a person who likes to fix things only to make it worst. She said the term aptly describe her "pacar", thus began calling him "tikus". I apologetically told him that I was sorry to give a bad influence on Mutiara. They just laughed. No one was offended.

I have to admit, they seemed to have no problem in remembering and pronouncing the Malaysian phrases. I, on the other hand, could only pronounce and remember few. Quoting Mutiara: Bahasa Malaysia seems to use full, longer and more formal words when compared to its sister, Bahasa Indonesia. The night continued in similar manners - laughing, comparing things, translating etc. - before we retired to bed.

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