It took a long time to adapt to the Indonesian way of life. For a long time when I first arrived, every single day contained a moment in which I was flabbergasted and confused. Walking away from a person or situation wondering:
What just happened?
Thankfully, I grew accustomed to the things that seemed chaotic to me at first; and, though there are still occasional surprises, I now generally understand what’s going on in my life in Indonesia and why.
But, there are still genuinely weird days when I arrive home in a daze, reaching for my Ibu for an explanation.
Today was one of those days.
I left school, jumping on an elf to head to the nearest large(er) town, Cikijing, to run some errands. I popped into the PCV haven Indomaret for some staples: tape, face wash, and laundry detergent. When I went to pay, the cashier asked me to wait, and I simply thought she was getting my change.
Eventually, a second worked came from a back room with a plate.
A plate for me.
A slightly dirty white plate with painted yellow daisies.
The cashier said something to me too quickly and pushed the plate toward me, as I stood there, obviously confused.
The cashier continued to talk to me, pace increasing, but I knew she was talking about what I bought, so I returned the bag to the counter. She put the bag on top of the plate and slid the bundle toward me.
I tried to ask a question, but became flustered as the Ibu behind me in line elbowed past me to put her own items on the counter.
I took the plate and left, getting on another elf toward home.
Commence freak out:
Why a plate?
Was it a mistake?
Was it not actually for me?
Was I supposed to fill it with bakso, eat, and return the plate?
Had I accidently bought bakso?
Am I ever going to be able to show my face in that store again?
By the time I got home a half an hour later, I was so confused and flustered I went into the house searching for my Ibu and immediately blurted out:
“Ibu! Saya bingung sekali!”
Ibu, I am very confused!
I showed her the plate, explaining what happened and she laughed while telling me it was normal. Detergen brand laundry detergent comes with a dish when you buy it from Indomaret — duh!
She then brought me over to our kitchen cabinets and began to remove dozens of mismatched plates, all of the plates she’s collected from detergent purchases over the years. She continued laughing as she added mine to the collection, adding how beautiful she thought it was and affectionately calling it “piring Taylor” (Taylor’s plate.)
Of all the times I’ve bought detergent over the past year, this was the first plate I’ve been given and the first I’ve heard of such a promotion, so my question remains:
But why a plate?
It’s like an eternal puzzle I could only solve if I were born Indonesian. Like the plate holds the key to the culture somehow: detergent=plate.
Will I ever understand?
Apply this metaphor to my life in Indonesia and the rhetoric analyzes itself.