Traveling always sounds interesting but for some, it can be much more intriguing. As for Louis Plottel, a 21 year old Canadian who studies in United Arab Emirates and currently living in Indonesia –chill, He’s not that random as you might think He is– He brings traveling to a whole new level. He doesn’t just go to exotic places and instagram them with his fancy phone. Instead, Louis is more interested to live and settle for a while in countries which are quite unusual for a North American. He traveled all the way to South East and living in a very small village in Indonesia right after High School, chose to spend 4 years of his life taking a degree in Abu Dhabi, completed his college internship in Tanzania, and continued to have each semester in New York City and again, Indonesia.
Louis is currently studying anthropology in University of Gadjah Mada –one of the Indonesian Holy Trinity– for a semester. As this is actually his third visitation to Indonesia and I had known him since the very first time he stepped his feet in this land, I have always been interested to see how he, as a foreigner, sees this diverse country by being the part of the community itself. This curly light brown haired boy has been living in Indonesian culture, eating the same food as other Indonesians, even speaking the language with a terrific skill. In my very first edition of Boys Brunch, I had the chance to kidnap him from Yogyakarta and made him spill his thought about Indonesia and its connection to the World in his favourite Magnum Café, Grand Indonesia, Jakarta.
Feby (F): Hi Lou, nice to see you again. How you been doing in Indonesia so far?
Louis (L): Feb! Everything goes well back in Jogja. My school is great and I have made friends with lots of people, especially the locals. I really enjoy it, especially when I can practice my Bahasa Indonesia in daily conversation with my friends.
F: Glad to hear you enjoy it that much, so tell me again how many places have you actually been traveling to?
L: Well, I never really counted, though. I think I’ve been to somewhere around 22 or 23 countries. Maybe 24. Yeah, somewhere around that. HAHAHA
F: As this is not your first time coming to Indonesia, can you please tell us what you did in your previous visits?
L: The first time I came here was back in 2011, just right after I finished High School. I joined this volunteering program that was held by Canada World Youth and Indonesian Ministry of Youth and Sport with other 9 Canadians and 10 Indonesians, including you. HAHAHA. We were placed in a really small village called Cikandang, an hour away from Garut, West Java. It was amazing to have the experience. I had a really great time. The second one was summer 2013. I traveled with my friend from France for five weeks in Indonesia, reuniting with old pals and visited more places that I did not get the chance to visit previously. And now here I am again, having a full semester in another iconic city of Indonesia. Until now, I have been living in Indonesia for 8 months in total and I will not leave until August 2015.
F: Why do you keep coming back to Indonesia? Is this the first country where you keep coming back regularly?
L: You know, I think in my experience of traveling in Indonesia is a lot different than other places that I went. Maybe because when I came here for the first time, it wasn’t just for travel, it was for a volunteering project. That allowed me to have a really different experience than other countries that I just travelled to as a tourist. I am actually connecting with people on a deeper level, and I didn’t see the touristy side of Indonesia. For instance when I lived in the village I felt as if I got much deeper sense of what Indonesia is all about compared to other places that you go if you just travel, so I think that deep connection just stuck with me.
There are actually other places where I feel as if I could have the same experience as I did in Indonesia. Just having a deeper travel experience. But for me the reason why I keep coming back to Indonesia is just because it all started here! Also once you start to build up a network somewhere, it’s easy to keep going back to that network. Not necessarily easy, but it’s just better. Again, it means you can have a deeper experience. I enjoy living in a country where I can learn the language. Since this is the first country that I have visited regularly, so it makes sense to learn the language here. I mean besides countries that I live in like Canada and UAE. I can say that I live here now though, for short period of time.
F: When you travel to Indonesia, do you consider yourself as a traveler?
L: Well, sort of. I mean I’m obviously not a local person and I obviously live a different life than a lot of other people who live here. There are still other places in Indonesia that I want to go travel like a tourist sometimes, but at the same time I wouldn’t say I’m a tourist. I can say that I’m a resident. Maybe a temporary resident.
F: What do you think the most and least exciting city in Indonesia so far?
L: The least exciting is definetely Jakarta. I even think that it’s my least favourite city in the whole world. It’s just so much inequality here. And there’s just too much of everything. It’s too big for its own size, too much traffic, too many people, and too many rich people living in beside poor people.
Most exciting city for me, I mean exciting is kind of a weird adjective anyways, but I guess Jogja. Jogja is a perfect size for me. It’s not too big, nor too small. And I have lived there the longest so I have established a lot of friends there, but I also feel like there are so many cities that I haven’t been to here in Indonesia. They can be more exciting than Jogja. I don’t know. I just haven’t seen most places in this big country. And to be honest, I think that I kind of like the Indonesian countryside more than the cities.
F: What is your biggest achievement in while you have been living in Indonesia?
L: For my personal achievement I guess it is that I feel pretty proud that I can speak Bahasa Indonesia because it’s not a really common language for people to learn. And the time that I felt the most proud was when I can have an actual proper conversation with people and I actually have friendships in that language, I think that’s really fascinating when you can actually make really good friends in another language.
But I think the best thing that I’ve done in Indonesia would probably when I was volunteering with Canada World Youth. I felt really useful as we took the action to contribute to the community we lived in. But I actually hope that my research becomes the best thing in Indonesia!
F: How will you think your Indonesian experience will affect your life in the future?
L: I actually thought about this a lot, recently. Like, what’s the contribution of being here in my life and honestly, the answer is I still don’t know. I actually have no idea. I’m sort of just living here in the moment because I like it at the moment. I haven’t really thought about the future. One think that might happen is if I become a researcher, or if I become a professor or something, I’m sure I’ll come back to Indonesia to do more research. Partly because I already speak Bahasa, though. That’s not set but that’s the path that my life might take. I don’t know, I try not to think about the future too much. I feel like I think about the future in terms of who I want to be instead of what I want to do. So of course Indonesia is going to affect my future. I’m always going to come back here. Because I have friends and places that still fascinate me. But I don’t really know what it’s going to mean in a broader sense.
F: You sound really connected to Indonesia. What is the Indonesian culture that you’re excited the most to share to people back home or places you’re going to travel to?
L: That’s a good question. I think part of the thing is that I don’t know if there are many people who know what’s going on in Indonesia. Compared to other countries that are just as big, for example people know a lot more about Brazil, China, India, and other big sized countries but people know very little about Indonesia. I mean part of it is just about telling people that Indonesia exists. But in terms of culture, I think Indonesian society is just set up in a really interesting way. It’s not one specific thing about culture. But I think Indonesia to me, or at least Java because that’s the place I know most in Indonesia, seems to have a really good system for allowing people to be quite different. You know in most countries there’s a lot of homogeneity. The culture sort of forces them to be a certain type of person. But here, I feel like people are so different from one another and allowed to be. Like, you can have those people that are activist and anarchist and they seem to be accepted in some way. That’s really cool.
F: So do you think people worldwide will appreciate that?
I think that they totally should. I don’t think inequality in Indonesia is good. I don’t think that it’s good that some people are so rich while some people are so poor. But I think the diversity of the society is a really good thing. And how Indonesia deals with its diversity, I think is a really good thing. Because in so many countries, I mean in America right now for example, there’s a big problem with black people being stopped, harassed or killed by the police at a much higher rate than others. That’s because the society isn’t really set up in a way that allows for diversity in the same way as here, in terms of race, identity or other things. And of course that type of stuff happens in Indonesia too but I just feel like as a society, Indonesia tolerates a lot of difference. Even like with Waria (Indonesian word for queer and crossdresser). It’s the same thing, you find that very few other countries around the world tolerate them in the same way because Indonesia has a level of acceptance for people to be different.
F: When you travel to places, do you usually have any special project to be completed?
L: I always take a picture of myself doing handstand in front of famous places. HAHAHAHA. I’m really good at it. Also, I always make sure that I meet local people and talk to local people. I think that’s really important for me. Especially to speak to them in the language that they understand.
F: What is the best thing that happened when you travel so far?
L: Just travel in general totally changes me. I traveled a little bit before I went to NYU Abu Dhabi but I travelled a lot more after that because of the school, and I feel like a completely different person now. I just feel like when I go home to Canada, or not even when I go home to Canada, sometimes people just say things and it’s so obvious that they know very little about the rest of the world. For example people in Canada talking about Islam as a backward religion and stuff, and it’s so obvious that they’ve never talked to a Muslem, they’ve never met anyone who’s a Muslem, or heard someone who actually identifies as that. Or even in Indonesia sometimes people are talking about the rest of the world and they have a really weird perception of it, or even deeper, having skewed perceptions of one another, I feel I can just understand the way the world works a lot better now that I have travelled. I see patterns across countries, like this is what creates equality, this is what creates poverty, because I see similarities in different places, and differences too. It just allows you to understand the clocks behind the machine of how the world works. Like what allows things to turn, and I think that’s very valuable. I think I have a much better understanding now that I’ve got to see how the world works
F: OK, now explain yourself in only three words!
L: Up side down, and… um….. no, that’s three words already!
I insisted that Upside down should be considered as 1 single phrase but Louis seemed either too obsessed by being upside down or could not think what he actually is beside that very interesting interpretation of himself. The whole interview went incredibly well. He was wearing a black T-shirt that says big “Khalas” on his chest that literally means “Finish” in Arabic. He sometimes had to think for several seconds when answering the questions, which I assumed that he might just realized about what he actually should do and what he had experienced around that time. But he always seemed so sure and sincere about it. I could totally see the love of travelling, especially in Indonesia through the big eyes of Louis Plottel which I really appreciated.
As our brunch came, we took a break of our chit chat by enjoying the heavenly meal. Louis had triple pancake, the thing that could remind him of home, and lychee iced tea while I had waffle, the thing that could remind me of Canadian brunch as well with regular iced tea. All menus here in this café are served with Magnum Popsicle which made us order another red velvet cake for us together. In the middle of brunch, we had more small talk that I asked him some questions that he just needed to answer with the very first thing that came into his mind without any delay.
- What is your most favourite Indonesian food?
Gado-gado (Indonesian veggie salad with sticky rice and peanut sauce dressing)
- Which Country that you always wish to live in?
- What is your must-have-fashion-item when you travel?
*laughing so hard* Shoes
- Where is the place you wish you can die at?
On the top of Tibet. HAHAHA
The next round, Louis needed to choose one between two options I asked him to choose
- Army pants or Hawaiian shirt?
- Croissant or Bagel?
- Tokyo or Hong Kong?
- Yoga or Jogging?
I like them both! Maybe I’ll choose Yoga
We completed the brunch with satisfaction. The interview went really well until we forgot that Louis should catch his flight back to Jogja right after that. Before we left, He just had one more task to complete. He needed to take picture in that place, anything he wanted. He decided to take this picture below so that you all can enjoy Jakarta through the eyes of Louis Plottel. Good luck for your Indonesian research, Lou!
- Louis Gerald Plottel was born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia, the western most province in Canada in November 9th
- Don’t feed him anything with face. He’s officially a Vegetarian since 2012
- In summer 2012, Louis and his friends from British Columbia had an environmental project called grass routes, which he biked across Canada all the way from the west to the east and campaigning about environmental stuff in the cities they stopped by. They completed more than 4,000 km Distance in less than 3 months. More information visit: https://www.facebook.com/grassroutesbiking
- Louis was accepted in two universities: New York University Abu Dhabi and College of The Atlantic with full scholarship for both. He chose NYUAD over College of The Atlantic in Maine, USA because He wanted to learn more cultures rather than just come back living in North America
- Visit Ecoherence, an Environmental Club in NYUAD and ask who Louis is. Everyone will know him. Of course, he’s the president of the club.
- How many places an Indonesian have traveled in Indonesia itself their entire life? Louis might travel more than them. He has been to Aceh, Bangka, Belitung, Jakarta, Bogor, Bandung, Garut, Tasikmalaya, Solo, Yogyakarta, Semarang, Kudus, Surabaya, Malang, Flores, and Bali. Beat that!