CWY Series 3 – Cross Cultural Understanding: Begins!

Previous Series: CWY Series 2 – Montreal Drama

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I hung out around fancy airports lately. It was really exhausting, but the excitement beat every negative feeling. And I really did not appreciate the complicated-ness of this travel. It looked organized but somehow I did not feel comfortable. And if you ask me why, I would not say anymore statement. I also could not decide which was more annoying: the jet lag or the cold – I was born and raised in equator city, what do you expect?

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I walked slowly behind my friends on purpose because I wanted to see around as half of my mind was still inside the plane. This airport right here, was not as fancy as the previous two these past two days. My Canada Air flight from Montreal to Halifax had only two stewardesses. One stewardess dressed like a real one; wearing that dress you saw from TV and all smiley.  While the other one, who was really unfriendly, wore glasses and dressed like she was about to do morning run with the body type that you would never find in any Indonesian flights. I did not know whether this country was too tolerance or my country was just appreciating beauty more for the sake of passenger’s comfort. And what I meant by beauty was of course a friendly personality. I wasn’t talking about beauty through body type at all, because just two seconds ago, I walked pass a body-sized mirror and saw beauty in a freezing 98kg flesh, blood, and fat (n) Homo sapiens.

The exit door was already behind me, bunch of kids were smiling while holding “Welcome to Canada” signages. People shook each other’s hands and introduced themselves. I did not usually approach people first which gave me no reason why I should start that time. I saw a blond girl with glasses whom I also saw on the plane. She smiled and “Hi” me.

“Were you also on the plane with us?” I replied. Frederique was indeed on the plane but was just too shy to introduce herself as part of our group. I met and introduced myself to several people after.

Someone yelled “Timbits, anyone?” and walked around while holding a box of Tim Horton’s timbit, something that looked like a sugary donut hole. I didn’t feel like I wanted a bite of timbit nor embarrassed myself when another person yelled about the last thing I wanted to hear at that very moment – an important moment when a perfect impression was what matter the most.

“So guys, we have this very special dance that we always do to keep our spirits high!” That was Amelia who initiated an interesting dance called G-O-O-D-J-O-B for public to either enjoy or laugh at. I enjoyed crazy things in some occasions but randomly performed that particular dance in front of people we were about to live with for the next 6 months was a bit immature, I could say. Who didn’t love Amelia!

“Hi, I am Louis, nice to meet you” someone talked to me right when a big bus driver told us to pay attention as he had an announcement. Most Canadians looked really fancy with long sleeved shirt

“Hello, I am Feby, nice to meet you too!” I could not decide in which accent I should speak. I was really good with accent but I would not want people think I was weird to speak in British accent in North America.

The driver had finished explaining as we were lining to get inside the bus. I sat next to Felix, a tall boy from Quebec City who was really quite. He told me the committee of CWY told them to dress up a bit because the Indonesian might wear that famous attire of theirs, which was why Felix wore a formal shirt with a tie. That Canadian road was really neat; there was no hole on the street and the 1-2 hours long ride was decorated by trees on every side of the road. Felix said that it was technically still summer, so all leaves were still on their branches.

I still could remember clearly how things smelled. I was in a room with 3 floral-pattern-sheeted beds, with 2 chocolate balls below our each name that was written on an orange paper. Someone mistakenly thought that Laksmi was a boy because I saw her name on the bed that was nearest to the door. While on the other side of the room, Felix was unpacking his stuffs from a very large luggage. They put us in the same convenient room on the upper floor of the house. The bathroom was also big, and I could see pretty much everything around the area of the camp.

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This whole area of Tatamagouche Learning Centre was so huge. They had the main building where every activity basically happened: dining hall, recreation room, library, chapel, and offices, that was surrounded by smaller houses for bedrooms with also living rooms inside them. Beside buildings, the area had a massive field of beautiful grass that you could roll your body onto for days, a really large lake where you could go canoeing, and small forest where we usually had our bonfire. That whole scenery was the view that I usually just saw on movies, but it was real at that time.

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The boys of Charlottetown and Truro were placed in this old big house called the Campbell House. Louis, Thomas, and Anggoro were all in a smaller room right beside ours. We walked down the stairs together and headed to the main building for our very first meeting. The six Project Supervisors were all there to greet us as we needed to stand in a giant circle so that everyone could see everyone.

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“We need you to mention 2 things about the place where you’re from” Said Suzanna, Truro-Sei Gohong project supervisor explained the activity as the introduction of our diversity of origins and backgrounds. Gillian and Dini high-fived each other when they just realized that they both wore Harvard University sweater as the first person started mentioning things about their city. Renata said “12 million populations” to describe Jakarta, Aryo said “City of hundred rivers” about Banjarmasin, and I said “Equator” to inform about Pontianak.

The introduction game was fun but I was having a jet lag. I fell asleep several time when the Director of the learning centre explained about the house rules. We continued to have supper which took place at the big dining hall at 5 PM. Yes, freaking 5 PM. The room had several circle tables for people to sit around. I didn’t know where to sit as friends whom I liked to gossip with like Renata, Mayfree, Reyska, and Meilia were busy with their group. I guess every time from that moment, was supposed to be the time that we had to know our own group better. We didn’t know our counterparts yet and I needed to know which person should I share bedroom with for the next 6 months.

“Do you Canadians always have supper this early?” I asked, with an inside battle of which accent should I use. I was in this table with mix of Canadians and Indonesians from my group, including Kim our Canadian project supervisor.

“Well, closer to winter, the daytime is also getting shorter. Some people consider 5 PM as also early time for supper. 6 or 7 PM are usually the more normal time.” Said a Canadian I could not remember.

That made more sense, it was not even really dark outside. There were these huge windows sized as big as the dining hall’s wall where you could see everything outside, the hilly grass field and the lake. They also had this wooden benches right outside the doors where we usually used for breakfast as the weather were really nice.

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We had this fried rice with sunny side egg for supper. I didn’t really like the taste, they put beans with the rice and that made the taste a bit interesting. I finished eating and had several conversations with some people before I decided that I was tired enough and needed some sleep. The next 3 days would be full of trainings during the daytime before we left for our each community.

The first meeting that morning was with Francois Tardiff, the CWY Program Director of Maritime Area. The Indonesian were showing that famous Saman Dance as an opening where Sudiani had a bit of an incident of losing one buttons of her pants, things that made me and Amelia laughed for days when we heard the story. Sorry, Sud but that was funny!

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Francois was explaining about the general rules of the program, things that we basically were already informed during our 2 weeks of Pre-Departure Training. But he explained it in more casual-not intimidating way. After the session, he divided us into several group to make a skit about each points of the CWY rules during the program – in which I later was infamously well-known as the boy who funnily pronounced the word “Answer”. The sessions were really needed for us so that we understood certain important things to stay away from trouble, and not get kicked out of the program especially in the first few weeks.

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Later in the afternoon, we were finally divided into meetings with our group only. The Charlottetown-Cikandang group was in the ‘common room’ of the building where 20 of us, including the supervisors would have more focused training sessions of program’s objectives and characteristics with one facilitator. Kristin, our group’s facilitator was a friendly, smart looking middle-age woman that apparently knew lots of thing about Indonesia. She’s been to Indonesia, became a facilitator of CWY-Indonesian program for several times before, and her Batik perfectly suited her easy-going personality.

She wanted an Indonesian interpreter from the group, thing I thought really unnecessary as all the Indonesians spoke English, but she insisted as she wanted to make sure that everyone could clearly understand of what was actually happening in the conversation. And of course, again, everyone asked me to be that interpreter.

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“Tell us something that we all didn’t know about you before” Kristin asked everyone

“I am used to speak in British accent, as many of my Indonesian fellows might have known. But I am afraid that everyone will think that I am weird, as a non-native speaker to speak in British accent in North America.” I answered.

Many people looked interested. “Can you please show us!” Someone asked.

“I can’t, that feels weird if someone asks me so.” I replied.

“Man, you just said ‘I can’t’ in a non-North American accent.” Someone told

Everything felt mixed-up. It was hard to omit my obsession of Spice Girls, Harry Potter, and Keira Knightley for an instant first week of adjustment eventough I regularly watched Gossip Girl and Mean Girls was still one of my most favourite movies.

We were back to more discussions and fun-task. Kristin explained that we were in this honeymoon phase where everything still felt exciting. But soon later in the program, especially when we would be in the community, that phase would just change in several cases when we interacted more with a lot of components in the program: Counterparts, host families, people from the group, work placement, and the community itself.

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“We all come from different places with different cultures and common practice, and adjusting ourselves into certain group of people in a short time can be really challenging, and of course it’s really normal to have those challenges.” Kristin explained.

“The way we interact, the way we think, even the way we eat can be different. And this program is designed to achieve cross cultural understanding. We all come here to learn and share and combine those differences into one unified message: to be the youth leaders of the world.” She added.

“Let’s have a little activity to show how 1 thing can be reflected differently in all of you.” She asked us to stand up in one area and asked a case: “One evening, you are in the passenger seat while your friend is driving. All of a sudden, your friend hit someone on the road but your friend just continued driving without helping the victim. As a friend, will you report him/her to the police of hitting someone on the road, or you’ll just protect your friend? Those who’ll go to the police please make a group on my right, and those who won’t, make a group on my left.”

I suddenly remembered my friends back in Pontianak. I have this clique consisted of 8 persons and were really closed during our 4 years in University together. We just graduated together literally a month before my departure to Canada. We indeed had been in a similar situation when we hit our lecturer’s car in the campus parking area, but this case that included police was a whole new level of friendship-test. I loved them and a 21-year-old me chose to move to Kristin’s left area.

The group was divided equally, each group also consisted of fair mix of Canadian and Indonesian – which indicated this case obviously had nothing to do with nationality and culture.

“Now I am going to add a new fact to the case. What if later on you find out that the victim had a terrible injury that was caused by the accident, and unfortunately the victim can’t do any activities for a long time meanwhile he/she is the only working person in the family?” Kristin added.

That scared me. I felt confused and I thought that the accident would have been my fault as well. The only way my friend would drive irresponsibly was just because I would have let them to do so. Several people moved to the right but no one from the right group moved to the left. I was in doubt until I decided to stay in my place. There were very few people stayed in that group, including the blonde short-haired Gillian with the nose ring.

I told her that time: “You and I should be best friend!”

CWY Series 2 – Montreal Drama

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

CWY Series 1 – The Day It All Started

People like Anggoro, Fairuz, Dini, or some other who have experienced North American fall/winter might have already understood that weird combination of bright sunshine and freezing-air-that-made-you-numb. But I still could not accept that the wind slapped me so hard that afternoon, just outside of Pierre-Truedeau International Airport while we were waiting for the bus. We were fully suited and tired of 16 hours long flight. Some people were just well prepared, they wore sweater underneath the coat, put on a scarf or had a big fluffy ear puffs in the middle of their red faces.

“I need to lay down for a while” as I obviously didn’t have a proper sleep, and those extra layer of clothing preparation besides a pair of leopard mitten that I borrowed from Reyska. As like it would help.

One bus with the first group just left before us. Another bus arrived and our group put our belongings in the trunk. The bus was too small for 11 people including the driver, but maybe it was just fine enough to be really close to each other and kept ourselves warm. And in just 15 minutes, the bus stopped at Best Western Hotel.

Those pile of luggage doesn’t look like that attractive now

I was in the middle of most diva-ish situation when I had to stay overnight with 2 of the most brilliant musicians in the group. Noval and Azis better shared the bed as we only had 2 beds in the room, and diva didn’t share bed. But diva did get thirsty. We saw nothing but empty glasses on the table. This hotel didn’t provide water for the visitor.

I went to the reception and stupidly shocked of what the friendly lady said.

“You can get water from the tap. We all drink tap water here.” She said in a French accent

Not sure, I called Kak Asni and she said don’t worry because tap water was indeed drinkable there. I went back to the room and found Noval had a glass of tap water already.

“Anggoro told me.” He said.

Alright, so who cared? I drank and it tasted like I-won’t-get-diarrhea. Something that nobody would ever do anywhere in Indonesia, at least not before you boil it.

3 of us laid down had a very little sleep and get ready as we needed to be in the hall for an arrival briefing.

“Hi everyone, my name is Giselle from Canada World Youth” the curly-haired lady announced herself. I could tell that her first language was neither English nor French. She announced few basic things about tomorrow’s departure. Another flight, of course.

Later I figured, Giselle was originally from Brazil. It was interesting enough remembering the fact that she was representing Canada World Youth, the organization that gave a third-world-country youth like me opportunity to join such an amazing program.

I was sitting on a couch at one corner in the city of Montreal, listening to Gisele’s explanation of our next travel arrangement. My other Indonesian friends who had just traveled all the way from South East Asia with me were sitting around me as well.

Those names I previously mentioned at the beginning were some of few weirdos I had to deal with almost every day, around 4 years ago. We started our journey in our each 27 different places all over Indonesia, wanting to get an International experience and were finally recruited by Indonesian Ministry of Youth and Sport to represent the Indonesian Youth in a program that they partnered with Canada World Youth.

It was September 2011 and this exchange program was at its 38th year. We had 2 weeks full of pre-departure training with the alumni in Jakarta as they expected we would be ‘ready’ to face the bittersweet of the 6 months program. 27 of us were divided in 3 groups who would live in 3 different communities, with each person would be paired with another Canadian youth as our counterpart, and each group would also be facilitated by a pair of Indonesian-Canadian project supervisors.

I was in the same group with Laksmi, Azis, Nadia, Fairuz, Anggoro, Amelia, Noval, and Dwi. Kak Asni was our project supervisor, she joined this program earlier in 2006 and Indonesian supervisor always had to be an alumnus of the program, just like her. We were supposed to live in Charlottetown, the capital of Canada’s littlest and eastern most province Prince Edward Island with environmental-focused project and volunteering.

The whole crew with the Chief of DPD RI – Irman Gusman

Other two groups were placed in Halifax and Truro, both in the province of Nova’s Scotia. The members of those groups might not really be that important to be mentioned, now. They will just naturally appear in the next posts through some incidents, if I feel like to.

Like Salam the member of Halifax group, right now. He just ran back from his room with a big bottle of chili sauce in his hand. “Can’t live without it!” he said.

Gisele had finished explaining about things I couldn’t even remember now. The short meeting was ended with an early dinner, at like 5 PM. Canadians had an interesting dinner time, I thought. Back in Pontianak, a city where I lived, I could just eat a bowl of noodle and would not call it as dinner and would eat a plate of rice and chicken 2 hours later, the meal that I would call as dinner. No wonder I weighted around 98kg.

Gisele distributed the dinner boxes. 2 big chicken breasts and french fries were in it. Without rice, of course, as this was unusual for the Indonesians to eat anything without rice and chili sauce. Some people were approaching Salam to get a bit of his chili sauce, I assumed that big bottle was his 3 months’ supply and decided not to ask for it. I did have my own in my luggage, but it was day 1 and that bitch Feby really loved challenge.

We finished eating and came back to our rooms as we had quite early flight the next day. But again, it was day 1. No matter how tired you were, you would not miss your very first North American night by sleeping. 10 of us were gathered in a room to discuss on what we called ‘group rules’, basically some bullshits of Do’s and Don’ts that we might not commit several weeks after.

Group Rules situation. It shows that we were not interested

I saw Wan Vina from Truro group changed her BBM profile picture at the downtown of Montreal, which was obviously the place where we should be at that very moment. We convinced Kak Asni that we should go around Montreal that night, as the very first group activity that we had never done before.

She agreed as we were all set and waited for the hotel’s shuttle to the bus station. And that’s how my group and I started to have our Canadian experience for the very first time.

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Next Series: CWY Series 2 – Montreal Drama

Small Boy, Big Dream – You Won’t Understand

My blog posts haven’t been that useful in 2015. Excuses are better be left unsaid because to be honest, what am I defending for? I don’t have that much of blog followers on the first place.

Several weeks before it happened, I allocated some spaces in my brain to think of how I would spend the Christmas long weekend. This may sound exaggerating –you know, my life as usual– but I put a lot of thought in it. I was thinking of several options as, thank God, I live in a country where literally anywhere is beautiful. And for the sake of the memory, at the end I put the dot on my map to this place where several parts of my character was shaped. And then it became the travelling of a reminder. A reminder of what kind of person I was, a reminder what kind of person I wished I would become.

I hopped in to the bus around 12 PM that 24 December. I read from social media that the traffic was literally crazy, but yeah bitch, what would my life be without craziness? I was lucky that I could sit as the bus was literally full of people who were probably tired of the city, excited to see other places, or just simply missed home. Another man sat next to me, an ear phone was plugged in to his ears as he was sleeping unbotheredly, great skill.

I committed myself to do a digital detox; I would turn off any internet connection and be in the ‘real life’ during the trip. It was such a perfect timing as I did not really have to reply emails or did some other work related things, I just wanted to be a hippie –And I am not using this in a sarcastic term–, I would not care about anything else other than what I would actually be experiencing in those 4 days, and I expected that to be lovely.

But then life was always a bitch. Traffic was, to be exact. It took 11 hours to arrive in the town where it usually took only 5 hours to visit. It was an hour after midnight and the early morning was really cold at the bus station. Everything was basically the same at that station: several buses were lining up to drop the passangers, the corner stores were open with limited lighting, and many motorcycle and pedicab drivers offered everyone their transportation service, it did feel really nostalgic. But it was really different as I was just literally alone.

I asked one random driver to bring me to the nearest hotel for me to stay overnight. It took 2 places before there was an inn that actually had an available room for a lonely visitor to stay. The lady was extremely friendly to me and to another couple that I thought only wanted to stay there to have sex. You know I’m really judgmental.

The couple was disgusted by the shitty room as they went with a motorcycle in that cold morning but I guess I did not have any choice. Dirty might be a strong word but the room was so far to be said as proper, it was really ‘different’.

“I will change the sheet” Said the lady as like it would help the room to be more proper.

“This should be fun and nothing wrong with having a different experience” I convinced myself, and it was really sincere. That was supposed to be the travelling of a reminder and I reminded not to complain. Besides, I was tired anyways and I would not do anything but sleep and I would just leave in the morning.

I woke up around 10 PM the next day and as planned, immediately leave the inn to explore the city a little bit before continuing to the final destination. I took another pedicab and went to the downtown, looking around to re-feel the “city warmth”, tasted good local foods, and did a Friday prayer in the City’s Great Mosque – all by my own.

The digital detox was working perfectly fine as well. I talked to real people when I wanted to know the direction, or when I was waiting for the angkot , sort of a van that became a public transportation in most Indonesian cities. I knew more about the people and their background I was actually facing rather than spending my time looking at the phone screen and putting love on people-whom-I-don’t-actually-know on instagram pictures,  it just felt damn nice! I wish the people of Jakarta would be more friendly so everytime I talked to random people on the street, they would be more welcoming and would not think that I am capable of doing bad things to them.

After a full-hour of eye indulgence when I saw anywhere was nothing but prettiness, I arrived in my destination around 4 PM in the afternoon. I ran to my house, where I spent several time of my life with people I really cared about, and surprised everyone as I did not tell everyone that I would go ‘home’.

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“You look more handsome!” Ibu –The Indonesian nick for mother and as how I called my host mom– said. “Of course!” I replied. Typical me.

I had a great conversation with the members of the house, updating each other’s life and laughing the fool things we did that we could remember. I left the house for an afternoon walk before the sun set. That was the second Christmas day I spent in that place I called home.

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The sun almost set behind the green mountains. Everything still existed, the mural, the library (they even have a new one!), the village hall, the ram statue, the football court, and of course the ram fighting arena with its famous huts. I broke my heart that Christmas afternoon, right in the heart of Cikandang Village.

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Back in 2011, I had an international youth exchange where they put together 9 Canadian Youth and 9 Indonesian Youth in one group to live together in both Canadian and Indonesian community for several months and aimed for International relations, mutual understanding, cultural exchange, sustainable changemaking, youth leadership and other endless positivity.  We were placed in the city of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island for the Canadian Phase and the village of Cikandang, a mountainous village in Southern Garut, West Java. We left the village at the end of the program around end of March 2012 with many beautiful memories.

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I have actually been back visiting the village after the program for three times with some other people, but the last time was in 2013, just right before I departed to Bahrain. So this visit was actually my first visit in 2 years, and the very first time when I came back literally alone in Cikandang.

My heart broke not because I haven’t moved on with my life. In fact, I did not even know what broke me inside to be exact. Maybe the fact that I was visiting with no friends or the reminder of how I envisioned the future-Feby in the past.

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I am really grateful of how my life turned after the program. I moved out from my hometown and I befriended great helpful people that gave me descent jobs in the capital city, Jakarta. I was blessed to have another opportunity to live in another foreign country, learning new stuffs and living in a total different culture, and especially at this time of my life when I was having my best job yet with lovely people around me, no reason to complain about life.

But something was missing….

And it was not my body fat, obviously. I did not know, It was maybe my attention to humanity, my sensitivity or my motivation to spread positivity.

Saying that I am not as a positive person as I was is too strong of an argument, especially it also indicates of how exaggerated I judged myself in the past. I mean, who claimed themselves of creating positive vibes by themselves? Maybe some people but I don’t think that’s my call.

Instead, I have the right to say something has definitely has changed. And honestly, until this particular word, I have no idea where this article will lead to and how it will end. Thoughts in my head are just like strings that can be straighten from earth to moon and back, but now it’s tangled. It became really messy that made it just as big as a tennis ball.

I was lucky to be born in a supportive family where my opinions and willingness are always heard and appreciated. The situation probably shaped my character to be a decisive individual and I always see the goal in any actions that I did. Every single one of them.

But I just felt that being adult is not that easy….

Life has always been a total player for every human in any ways possible. We undeniably have bigger burdens, big enough to think that the great master plans we always had suddenly became unconvincing. And as it probably got you, it might get me even harder.

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I spent 2 days in Cikandang and re-saw what myself particularly have contributed to that beautiful small area. It was probably intangible, I mean, the sidewalk marks that we hand-painted were not even there anymore. But seeing the exact same mural on the wall about not littering your garbage on the street or realizing that the blue colour or library wall haven’t changed since we dramatically decorated them made me smile a lot.

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My friends and I might not save the world or became a bunch of fairy godmothers and turned a poor girl to be a princess. But we clearly shared the same spirit. We were bunch of young people from major cities in both country and were placed in a village that was totally different with how we used to live, was a total slap in the face. Moreover, this opportunity did not just arrive in my lap in a silver platter. I fought for my spot to be there, to be the part of the team and I did not just start that because I was following the trend. I made some names for myself until those judges could decide that I deserved the spot.

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We sincerely loved the place and had the motivation that we could contribute positively to the village. At that time, the motivation was even bigger because we are entitled as “Youth of The World” which in overreacting version of me years ago, it meant really important as it led to do really important things to the world as well.

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And how I applied that in the life I had? I realized that volunteering and social movement was not a new thing. As I said, I was probably chosen to join the program because I was actively involved in those kinds of activity. And I used those learning process to be really pay attention of any actions I would contribute. I took every single opportunity to help things get better in the village seriously like I would live there forever. All with a very supporting environment from magnificent team member and locals. I sincerely had super strong willing to keep doing what I did until forever, somehow, somewhere.

But now it has been 4 years since that flame positivity burned me inside and outside. When you see myself right now and compare with what kind of person I told you before, your reaction might be really subjective because in reality, those plans haven’t worked, yet. Why? I wish I can say I don’t know but I clearly know the reason. Because it’s what life is about. Remember at that time you ordered a customized menu at the restaurant? You wanted double scoop of vanilla and chocolate ice cream and specifically wanted the vanilla scoop to be on top but the waiter came with the chocolate on top instead? You can plan, decide, or even manipulate how you wish your life be, but it’s not always up to you, it has never been, it will never be. The world and any single thing inside it work together like a pair of gear that makes certain action affects the others and that is not new information for anyone, I know.

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But we just sometimes forget about it, I often forget about it. And the reflection of it shows in our action. We can complain to the waiter who brought the wrong order of ice cream scoop or just accept and eat as it would taste the same, anyway. And that’s how I probably choose to respond the life world is offering me to.  I am not capable of fulfilling my dream 100% but I should be able to be patient and use any learning in my journey to be the ‘weapon’ of my future. I was probably part of the bigger gear who affected smaller gear in the program and I never wanted such habit to stop happening in any circumstances.

Nevertheless, the beauty of that mountainous village was just everything I needed last end of the year. This reminder, reflection, whatever you call it to make me realize of how grateful I am to be the person that I am now, and the person that  I will be. I was visiting the former head of village’s house and the family greeted me warmly. I had a nice conversation with them and heard them talking sincerely of how happy they were when we were there, joking around about funny things that happened in 2012. Rury, the eldest daughter was still in middle school back then and now she is a year away from University. She told me of how she planned to take International Relation in either University of Padjadjaran or University of Gadjah Mada, two major universities in Indonesia because of how she was inspired by the program that she was being involved with as the local. For the 5 years activities with around 90 youth in the period, irregardless the debatable sustainability and controversy it created. And that seriously made me smile a lot.

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I visited many places in the village where I liked to spend time with my friends and had great conversation with not just my host family but some other host families. You never realize of what impressions you could leave to certain community until you come back in quite some time and feel, really feel inside yourself of how joyful and peaceful your little heart to stand on the place where you usually stood. And I don’t want Cikandang to be the only place where I can feel that way.

Small boy, big dream. That I know.

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Boys Brunch: Louis Plottel – Travels Internationally, Speaks Locally

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.

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Louis Plottel, our very first Boys Brunch – June 2015

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.

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Who else is better to be your first guest other than your good old friend?

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.

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Lou was wearing a T-shirt that said Khalas, literally means finish in Arabic

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!

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Signature style, bringing CWY spirit wherever we meet.

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.

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Lou’s signature style. This one was in Curug Orog Waterfall, Garut in 2012. Back to his first Indonesian experience. Pic credit: Frederique Landry

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!

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He might be the only person in the history to ever do a handstand on the edge of Borobudur as it is strictly forbidden

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.

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What Louis had: Pancake de Ostend – Trio mini pancakes with mini Magnum vanilla sticks, strawberry, blueberry, and peanut butter filling & lychee iced tea

  • 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?

Turkey

  • 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

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What I had: Waffle de Antwerp – Belgian waffle with chocolate Magnum stick, dark chocolate shavings and dark cherry compote & iced tea

The next round, Louis needed to choose one between two options I asked him to choose

  • Army pants or Hawaiian shirt?

Hawaiian shirt

  • Croissant or Bagel?

Croissant

  • Tokyo or Hong Kong?

Tokyo

  • Yoga or Jogging?

I like them both! Maybe I’ll choose Yoga

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Lou’s second visitation in Summer 2013 for the whole 5 weeks. This was in Solo, Central Java. Photo credit: Emma Burke

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!

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What Louis took. As he fancy the sentence “Intertwining beauty and suffering”. This is the view right in front of Magnum Cafe. Pic credit: Louis Plottel

About Louis:

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Lou and his Grass Routes pals back in summer 2012. Photo credit: Grass Routes

  • 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!
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The whole brunch and interview were done in Magnum Cafe, Grand Indonesia. See you for next month’s installment of Boys Brunch!