I recently experienced a hearty dose of culture shock when visiting an Indonesian family in East Java. I arrived in the rainy season (the western hemisphere’s winter) and was surprised by the differences in daily living.
1. Squat toilets and NO toilet paper
The squat toilet is common in Asia and actually better for the human physiology than our Western sitting toilets. I was prepared to learn the ways of the squatting potty but not for the lack of toilet paper and typical indoor shower plumbing. A water trough (usually tiled concrete) stands near the toilet and is always filled with water which is not drinkable but can be used for bathing and washing after using the toilet. A plastic ‘dipper’ sits on the edge of the tub and is used for dousing oneself, whether to shower the whole body over the floor drain or just the offending parts while hovering over the squat toilet.
I was in a conservative Muslim neighborhood in Sidoarjo, East Java with several Mushallah’s (prayer rooms) and a Mosque with a few blocks in all directions. Arabic prayers are blared over loud speakers five times per day for about thirty minutes. The prayer times are linked to the rising and setting sun and will change with the season. Business and conversation halt for a few minutes and people will pray where they are at or make their way to the closest Mushalla or Mosque to pray.
Antifungal / antibacterial ointment or essential oils
Sanitation is not well developed in most of Indonesia and the ground is moist in the rainy season. Chickens, cats, mice and rats scurry around in the open. People take their shoes / sandals off to avoid tracking the grime indoors and on tile porches, but chickens and cats do not follow these rules so bringing an antifungal cream with you is a good idea to avoid “itchy feet” as it was called by a local.
As mentioned above, chickens, cats, mice, rats, geckos and insects are everywhere. The common house geckos especially like the bathroom and kitchen areas. Local’s leave windows open for airflow or have unsealed homes, so learning to live with these little creatures is a necessity. Mosquitos are the worst at night and ants are everywhere, so watch your food.
The heat is unbearable in the middle of the day and most people take an hour or two nap if they are able to supplement their evening sleep. This is important to take into account when planning activities and outings with local friends. I also noticed that the locals stayed up quite late, around 12 AM, and woke up rather early, about 5 or 6 AM.
Many other differences between Indonesia and America make for a culturally enriching experience. I highly recommend visiting this developing Country.
Have you been surprised by daily living differences in your travels? Leave a comment below to let us know!