Previous Series: CWY Series 1 – The Day It All Started
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Pontianak was just a regular city in a regular country. Our city was not really well known for many of ignorant Indonesians as we live in western part of Borneo. People were actually thinking that we still lived in a jungle and dealt with cannibalism in our regular days just because we lived in an island that used to have the one biggest area of forests to contribute oxygen.
As most of the forests had disappeared, what could we do other than finally moved on and lived in an actual solid house? We lived in an actual neighborhood that made us feel bad to eat each other so we did not have much choice but to eat an actual ‘normal’ food as everyone else usually had. We also went to school to catch up with other cities, kept us civilized enough to run technology for our necessity, such as going around to places with modern vehicles. Like what I usually had every other day.
I usually drove scooter in Pontianak always-sunny-day, sunny because the equator line was just literally above our heads. The heat usually sneaked up underneath our clothes right into the skin, daytime could be annoying, but night time was supposed to be comfortably warm. Unlike that night when I almost froze to death!
I still remember that night when we had a big group discussion, a month before our departure during the medical check-up, about stuffs we should or should not bring all the way from home. Some people have had experienced the North American life and they were more than happy to share thing like “just bring your own shampoo, it’s gonna be expensive if you buy it there”, or “you might want to bring some instant Indonesian spices and noodles, just in case you miss them”, and even “don’t buy any winter coat from home, we will be able to just buy them right when we arrive at the thrift store.” And as a kind-loving-sincere person who trusted his friends no matter what, of course I followed what they said.
But then I wanted to choke them all to death if only I could even move my hand. We just got off the bus that charged us CAD 8 from the airport area to downtown Montreal and I just wore a hoodie that obviously was not enough. That was around 9PM and I missed Pontianak’s weather already. “Where’s that freaking thrift store you said I could buy my winter coat!” I yelled at my friends as the frozen breath came out from my mouth. They were laughing as I was shaking. Fairuz, the girl from Aceh was kind enough to give me her scarf as like it would help. I took her scarf and put it around my neck, nothing really changed but at least I know I could rely on her.
I was not the only one who struggled, though. Azis’ face was red and he just kept silent following everyone everywhere. We walked towards the we-just-followed-our-heart direction until we found a cool church which might look like a regular pretty building for the locals but we have never seen any glorious, strong, and magical landmark like that with our own eyes at our home town. And of course, fancy things like that would always be a picture time.
We actually had fun in the downtown as I always loved classical things and the city was beyond beautiful. We had a little jog to keep ourselves warm and kept walking like we were so thirsty of great visuals. The jet lag helped, though. It was day time back in Indonesia and we were such a group of mature young people who would never sleep during our biological-day-time.
We arrived at such a huge park in the middle of the city. I could not remember, actually did not care, but all of a sudden someone was yelling “Maple leaf!”. And like a group of sheep, people were following that bitch to run for a maple leaf picking. That was the end of summer (I know, it was weirdly freezing already) and people said that it was one of the best times to collect some leaves as some of them would have had turned beautifully red, just like the one at the center of Canadian flag.
The park was full of dropped maple leaves and I did not understand why they would be crazy to fight over the best leaf instead of enjoying the moment first. I remembered that day when I was at the second grade. I just went home from school and saw a music video on TV by Spice Girls called 2 Become 1 that took place in New York City but my Mama mistakenly told me that it was in London because she knew that The Spice Girls were from England. I did not know that the song was about sex but I always wanted to visit London right after that. And that Montreal downtown kinda looked like that. I saw big beautiful classical building around, stood right at a giant neat city park, and white people were everywhere crossing the street in the cold night. I still regretted that I did not have the coat and the boots just like what Ginger Spice had in the music video, but that was still a beautiful moment to enjoy.
I still could not remember who but someone handed me a single maple leaf to take a picture with. I took and posed with it with my super red cheeks. We ended up taking a group picture where we put a single leaf in front of our each foot in a perfect circle shape, just like my face. It was a cool pic to post on social media before it became cheesy when you look at it now.
“Kak Asni, I really need something warm, or else I will start to breathe ice!” I said with a constant shake all over my body.
“Yeah, let’s find something to drink.” She said. She looked cold too. The last time she came to Canada was 5 years ago in British Colombia where the area wasn’t as cold as Quebec.
“Where?” I replied
“You probably can ask those people over there” She pointed at a bench where some people were sitting and laughing.
I knew she thought I had the best English in the group so it would be easy for me to speak with the locals. And that’s true, everyone’s English might be great but mine was always greater. I walked toward the bench and I saw a lady with 5-6 men having a funny conversation as they laughed a lot. All of them were really attractive.
“Excuse me, can I ask something? Do you know where I can get a hot chocolate?” I asked them with my best accent possible. I was always proud of my perfect accent.
Some of them were grinning right after I said that. Some started laughing and looked at each other until someone started replying me
“Oh jeez, are you a hooker?”
Oh no you dirty bitch, you did not just say that to my face! And my face got even redder.
“Kid, don’t be a hooker, go back home and sleep.” And they were all laughing.
These people were completely drunk, I mean, why wouldn’t I realized that since the beginning? And they don’t speak in French accent which made me assuming that they weren’t locals. They kept going on with their hooker jokes and for some reasons I did not move. It happened for about a minute until the only lady there felt pity about this big Asian kid and stood up.
“Stop it, guys. That’s not funny!” She told her friends as she walked towards me.
She looked nice and totally sober. She apologized on behalf of her friends, took me to the side, and asked me where I was from. I explained to her that I was from Indonesia with a group of freezing friends while we could totally still hear the drunken men cheering in the background.
Her name was Kim and I took her to the group. Kim told us that they were also visiting Montreal from Ontario and she insisted to take us to nearby Tim Horton’s by herself, maybe because she felt bad that her friends were being total assholes. Thanks for helping us, Kim!
Kim in the middle
I knew Starbucks pretty well eventough they didn’t have an outlet in Pontianak but I didn’t know that the Canadians have their own original coffee shop chain called Tim Horton’s which could easily be found pretty much everywhere around the city. The place was definitely warmer than outside. I got myself a hot chocolate and a donut while looking outside through the window, it pissed me of how tricky the city was: It didn’t look freezing from the inside at all! The city was still pretty much busy. Some people were still walking outside and there were more than a dozen persons in Tim Horton’s excluding us, like this one big long-yellow-haired guy with a lot of piercings who just came in. He was smirking as we had eye contact which later on I regret. I was just called as a hooker by some random strangers. I didn’t think staring at an eccentric guy on the exact same night was a good idea.
The hot chocolate was satisfying as I definitely didn’t have any other choices. I did not want to take any coffee because it was midnight and I needed to be as tired and sleepy as possible to adjust the new time zone.
“Your cheeks are really red” Anggoro told as he sat beside me with a cup of something. I looked at my reflection through the window, hard to see but I actually could feel how red it was.
“Those stupid rude men called me a hooker, thank God it did not change to blue instead!” I replied. “I’m tired, let’s just go back to the hotel after this. We will have a morning flight tomorrow and tonight’s drama is more than enough.” I told Kak Asni who happened to sit in front of me.
She laughed. “You just had one, more real drama is waiting for you in the next 6 months, Feb!”
As soon as she finished her sentence, someone screamed really loudly as we shockingly looked towards where the voice came from. A petite girl just literally ran to the door and went outside the place as fast as she could. We instantly followed her outside with lots of confusion as everyone was staring to a bunch of annoying Asian kids who did not know how to chill in a coffee shop.
“HE CARRIED A FUCKING SNAKE IN HIS PANTS!” It was Amelia, who screamed hysterically. According to her, the eccentric man whom I saw apparently carried a snake inside his pants. He took pulled the snake out of the pants to show Amelia, as like he knew what exactly her phobia was.
“I saw it too. It was tiny but still scary, though. It was a real living snake!” Added Noval, who just wanted to make sure that the word snake referred to a real gross long living animal that should not become a pet instead of a different way of telling us that the man was pulling his penis from his pants. Because you know, sometimes people said penis as a snake too. Weird, right.
Amelia was too shocked to cry, but I could totally how devastated she was. She look like she could not breath and could just pass out anytime soon.
“Have some water.” It was Fairuz again who offered help in the form of bottled water. Amelia finished that in 10 seconds as people were helping her to sit at the bench across the street.
This happened too fast until I did not realize that my fragile body started to feel cold again as we were outside. Everyone’s face looked really tired, obviously, and I personally started to feel scared of being in a whole new place.
“Kak Asni, let’s just please go back to the hotel.” I half begged.
She agreed and waited for a few moments until Amelia had enough strength to walk to the bus shelter. It was not a really long walk until we arrived in front of a big building with the sign BUS STOP written in both English and French. There was a route-map that told us the bus from this shelter would take us to where we were from, and it said the bus was operating for 24 hours.
It was 2 AM in the morning and we waited for around 10 minutes without any bus, or anyone around. We started to feel really cold again but this time I felt so awake. I could not remember nor care but someone said “Let’s do saman dance to warm each other up”.
Bad idea. I did not know how to do that. Saman dance (or usually translated as Thousand hands dance in English) is a traditional dance originally from Aceh which always became a dance that all Indonesian volunteers of CWY had to learn in our Pre-Departure-Training every single year. It’s a beautiful dance with a really good philosophy where everyone should sit extremely close next to each other tightly with a lot of hands and heads movement in a harmony. The more dancers, the longer the line would be, the more beautiful it would look. While as for a non-Acehnese and not really a dancer kinda person unless you played Beyonce’s Single Ladies so that my inner-stripper could be release, I found it a bit hard for me to learn such dances.
I didn’t think I was the only one who could not dance that time, so I just squeezed myself between 2 people, mainly to make myself warm and planned to just follow the rhythm. Fairuz was playing role as the singer –There is no music in saman other than the voice of the live singer– and everyone was ready in the line.
She started to sing as we followed her rhythm excitedly. I knew the first several movements and changed my mind that it was probably a good idea to just release everything that happened that night. I slowly looked at my surrounding, thought of how scared I was before this crazy idea to dance an Indonesian traditional dance right in the heart of Montreal happened.
Before we left, the alumni told us that this program would offer a lot of new things in our life: New place, new people, new friendship, new culture, new lifestyle, even new drama. What we needed to do was that just enjoying the journey with all of its process and just hold on to our main objectives of why we would want to be there.
That early morning dance in the side of a big street we did would never happen anywhere else in any occasions if we did not just pass something like what happened to force us unite as one ultimate team as we should be. That new big experiences ahead should not be passed individually, especially with the amazing people you shared a lot of things in common with. I kept dancing with few mistakes in the movement but I did not stop doing it. Looking back at it in 2016, I could actually see it much deeper of how that night in particular just represented my next 6 months was like: We got excited, we got drama, but we could always rely on each other.
I was happy that I shared the night with the group that I love. The bus came and we got in with full of laughter. Kak Asni, Feby, Amelia, Fairuz, Anggoro, Noval, Laksmi, Nadia, Dwi, and Azis went back to a hotel with whole of new excitement of the next day. Kim, Kevin, Fred, Louis, Gillian, Max, Felix, Kayla, and Julia better brought their asses at the Halifax airport to pick us up, tomorrow!
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Next Series: CWY Series 3 – Cross Cultural Understanding: Begins